The automaker's Camry has been the best-selling car in America for nine of the past 10 years, but it seems African-American consumers would rather hitch their wagons to just about any other brand.
"Here's this nameplate that's ubiquitous," said Monica Warden, account director for Burrell, Toyota's agency of record or African-American advertising. "But for an African-American woman, it's not even in her consideration set. Our preliminary testing found they think of it as suburban, not urban; as solid but boring. And for this woman, she doesn't see herself as boring."
To shift the car's perception and increase purchase consideration, Toyota and Burrell have turned to the Pasadena, Calif.-based 42 Entertainment, a company that specializes in creating alternate-reality games, including a recent innovative viral campaign for Warner Bros.' forthcoming "Batman: The Dark Knight."
In the game, which makes its debut today, Bianca, a good-looking assistant designer at an urban fashion house, finds herself -- and her new 2009 Camry -- enmeshed in a world of espionage. A $5 million print, radio and online campaign that will run in media primarily consumed by African-American women aims to drive the target demographic to iflookscouldkill.com, a site where "fashion and espionage collide," said Susan Bonds, president of 42 Entertainment.
Espionage, mystery Naturally, Bianca's unwitting involvement in spy tradecraft will be assisted by Camry's onboard Bluetooth, navigation and push-button ignition system, all features that will be "seamlessly integrated" into the content, Ms. Bonds said.
Why Camry hasn't caught on with African-American women is something of a mystery.
If the demographic simply wasn't buying any midprice sedans, one could to point to U.S. Census Bureau statistics that show that black women are the least likely to marry (in 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 41.9% of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 20.7% of white women) and also the most likely to divorce. Lacking a double income, they might opt for cheaper wheels.
Or one might look to a November 2007 study by New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy that found that black and Hispanic borrowers were more likely to be steered into subprime loans than others, even adjusting for income, loan size and property location -- indicating they don't have money to buy a car.
But U.S. Census data from 2005 show that black and Asian women with bachelor's degrees earn slightly more than similarly educated white women. And a recent study conducted by Burrell found that black women do buy midprice sedans; they just tend to buy Altimas, Accords and Avengers. Indeed, the Camry was being outsold almost 2-to-1 by Dodge's Avenger among black customers -- a car that suffered from less horsepower and lower fuel mileage than just about every six-cylinder competitor, including the Camry.
The game developed by 42 Entertainment is designed to target exactly those professional black women between 25 and 40 who earn at least $70,000 a year -- the same group that, Ms.Warden said, had previously written off the car as a suburban yawn.
"They think they know the car, but we're going to disrupt those perceptions," she said. "When you think that someone actually cares enough to make their product relevant to you, it can change your mind."
She added: "No one has ever targeted African-American women like this."