TOYOTA TAKES ITS BRAND INTO BOAT MARKET: EPIC'S $3 MIL INTRO COULD MAKE WAVES IN CATEGORY

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Toyota Motor Sales USA is going into the boat business.

The carmaker's Toyota Marine Sports' division in August will launch its Epic water-ski boat with an estimated $3 million advertising push in boating magazines.

"We are bringing Toyota's quality, technology and experience to the boat business," said Doug Plescia, VP-general manager of the division.

The Epic is powered by the same V-8 cylinder engines used in Toyota's luxury Lexus division's GS 400 and LS 400 sedans, and SC 400 coupe. Toyota projects it will sell 500 of the boats via 30 U.S. dealers from August through next July.

Fry/Hammond/Barr, Orlando, is handling, having won the account last year. The agency's first work for the marketer used teaser ads that broke in May boating magazines, with the theme "Prepare for a civilized rush."

TOUTING TOYOTA'S REPUTATION

The ads tout Toyota's automotive reputation for quality, dependability and reliability with headlines like "Introducing another dependable vehicle from Toyota minus the wheels," said Pete Barr Jr., exec VP-agency services.

The water-ski boat segment is relatively small, with annual sales hovering around 8,000 annually, Mr. Barr said. "Even though a name like Toyota begs national TV advertising, ski boats is a pretty narrow category," he added.

However, Toyota Marine plans to run ads on cable TV sports channels next year, said a spokeswoman.

The number of U.S. recreational boat owners has hovered between 15 million and 16 million since 1988, according to estimates by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade group. The retail market last year totaled $19 billion, up from $17.7 billion in 1996, the association estimated.

"Most boat manufacturers don't spend a lot on advertising and stick to vertical books," said Mel Medrich, vice chairman-creative services at Stone, August, Medrich, a Troy, Mich., shop that has had the Hatteras Yachts account for 18 years.

Hatteras spent $306,000 in measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Richard Amann, publisher of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Boating, said that while boatmakers "do undermarket themselves," Toyota and its strong brand equity may shake up the industry. "The idea of branding is totally foreign to" current boat marketers, he added.

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