TV-Heavy Campaign to Educate Consumers About Prius

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DETROIT ( -- Toyota Motor Sales USA is giving its second-generation Prius a bigger and broader media push -- an estimated $30 million in the 2004 model year -- in the hopes it can educate consumers who still have misconceptions about the car's hybrid gas-battery technology.

Ernest Bastien, corporate manager

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of vehicle operations at the automaker, said Toyota asked consumers whether Prius' battery had to be plugged in to be recharged. Of those surveyed, 24% said they thought Prius had to be plugged in while 28% said they didn't know. (General Motors Corp.'s electric EV1, now discontinued, had to be recharged daily.)

Making its case
To that end, Prius' ads clearly state "you never have to plug it in." Toyota's agency, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, in Torrance, Calif., created four TV spots in addition to print, outdoor and Internet ads. The first commercial breaks nationally Nov. 9 on Meet the Press and will air on cable and broadcast network evening news programs for only two weeks before resuming the ads in February. (In the interim, Toyota will be readying ads for its 2004 Tundra pickup as the Japanese carmaker looks to gain market share for its truck line.)

More than half of Prius' ad budget is going being spent on TV, said Deborah Wahl Meyer, who as corporate marketing communications manager oversees advertising.

Toyota's ad spending on Prius has waned since it first arrived in the U.S. in June 2000. In that year, Prius got $29 million in measured media support, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Prius received $14 million in 2001; $13 million last year and $12 million in the first half of this year, according to CMR data.

American Lung Association events
The redone 2004 Prius (pronounced "pree-us) is getting plenty of other marketing support, including an "Engines of Change" test-drive tour in 15 cities starting mid-October and vehicle displays at some 50 American Lung Association fund-raising walks called "Blow the Whistle on Asthma." Ms. Meyer said a test drive event for several dozen Hollywood types in July led to 24 Prius orders.

The first spot from Saatchi shows car and bicycle wheels turning and feet walking, but nothing is moving. Actor Jeff Goldblum, who has been the voice of Toyota Division ads for two years, narrates the spot, which tweaks astronaut Neil Armstrong's moon-walk line: "One small step on the accelerator, one giant leap for mankind."

Sales goals
Mr. Bastien said Toyota plans to sell 36,000 of the cars in the U.S. next year; it expects to sell roughly 20,000 units this year.

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