New Toyotas get 15 seconds of fame

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Toyota Motor Sales USA is expanding its use of 15-second TV spots for the upcoming launch of Toyota Division's first electric/gas-engine small car, the Prius, and the redesigned Celica coupe.

Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at the division, said the :15s give him a lot of flexibility. "We can run them in the same commercial pods or alone," he said. The spots may run together, or at the start and finish of a pod. "We have more opportunities to grab the viewer's attention, both in terms of impact and frequency," he said.

Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., handles the account and developed all the :15s. But Saatchi bid on the Prius TV campaign against Oasis Advertising, New York, which has the Toyota Motor Corporate Services of North America account. Oasis used Prius in print ads that arrived last fall touting corporate environmentalism. The shop handled print ads for the car's launch, arriving in July magazines.

Prius alone will get 350 slots of :15s on national cable TV from July 1 through September. The buy includes Discovery, the History Channel, the Learning Channel and MSNBC. Prius commercials will also run on spot TV as part of the new car's estimated $15 million campaign. "We have a distinctive product and we didn't want to treat it in a traditional way," said Mr. Sturm of Prius. The simple spots make it perfectly clear the car is completely cordless and needs no charging, he added.

Toyota is "encouraging Saatchi to think out of the box by making a story compelling," he said. "You don't need a lot of wrapping paper," said Mr. Sturm of the :15s.

FOR TACOMA

The marketer started using :15s for the Tacoma compact pickup and MR2 sports car earlier this year. General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Corp. used :15s in fall 1998 to launch the three-door S series car. One execution, with no narration, showed a boy playing a tuba on the side of a quiet road. In a second spot from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, the Saturn pulls up and the boy and his tuba enters the third door behind the driver.

Bill Gordon, management director of the account at Saatchi, said :15s provide more TV frequency. The spots work without "a lot of fluff," he added.

The Prius creative aims to show the two sides of the car -- that the engine is both high-tech and has low emissions.

The environmental spot shows the car driving through a jungle, where it is approached by chimps who suspiciously check it out. The narrator introduces the "new gas and electric Prius as running "90% cleaner than most other vehicles." The animals start clapping as the voice-over says "Obviously, nature approves."

Mr. Gordon said Prius spots were filmed in a back lot at Warner Bros. on the first day of the actors' strike with non-union talent.

All three new Celica :15s end with the tag "Performance you can use." Mr. Sturm said "we set out to create spots that focused on a single benefit, delivered in a clear and entertaining way."

In one execution, the male driver entertains his hound with a thrill ride that results in G-forces contorting the dog's long ears and face.

All the commercials will appear on Toyota Web sites and other select sites. Prius TV and print ads direct consumers to toyota.com/prius, due to be activated July 14. Celica spots carry the Web address isthisatoyota.com.

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