Toyota Turns to Addressable TV to Sell the Prius Prime

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New ad for Prius Prime
New ad for Prius Prime  Credit: Toyota

As Toyota markets its new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid -- which can run in gas or electric mode -- the automaker is going after a very specific consumer: tech-savvy, knowledge-hungry drivers ages 18-49 with household incomes of $75,000 or more and who tend to be environmentally conscious but also economical.

So instead of running a national TV campaign, Toyota's media plan is highly targeted, including one of the automaker's largest addressable TV buys ever. Addressable TV ads, which allow marketers to target consumers by household characteristics, remains a small but growing fraction of TV buys. Research firm eMarketer projected in a report earlier this year that addressable in the U.S. would surge by 119.4% this year to $890 million. But that remains just 1.3% of total TV ad spending, according to the report.

Automakers are drawn to addressable because ads can be used to target households with car leases that are set to expire, meaning they could be in the market to buy a car soon.

Toyota declined to release the financial terms of its deal. But Lisa McQueen, media manager for Toyota Motor Sales, suggested in a statement that the deal will allow the automaker to target potential Prius Prime buyers who "see their vehicle as an extension of their consumption of advanced technology." She added: "Addressable TV is an efficient way to reach those consumers while still taking advantage of the premium linear TV positioning to build awareness."

"An expanded universe of data sources that allow for one-to-one communication is what makes the promise of addressable TV so attractive to the marketplace, and especially automakers," said Janet Waters, communications director for Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, which handles media planning and creative advertising for Toyota. "As the delivery pipes converge and TV simply becomes another screen, the improved ability to reach a targeted audience will significantly increase buying efficiency."

Other automakers that have recently made addressable buys include Hyundai, which is currently using the method to run ads for its new luxury Genesis brand by targeting households with incomes of $100,000 or more. "We use it because we understand that that's one of the most targeted forms of getting a big screen to light up with our message in the exact households you want it to," said Hyundai Motor America Chief Marketing Officer Dean Evans. "We understand it's got its limited reach today," he added. But "we think we have to go there just to become smarter marketers."

Toyota's addressable buy backs a new ad that portrays a man who has traveled through different historical eras and has remained skeptical about new inventions, including the wheel, electricity and trains. His skepticism vanishes as he is shown in modern times riding shotgun in a Prius Prime. "He's just poo-pooed all these things and finally he is just impressed with this car," said John Payne, Saatchi's executive creative director.

Hybrid car buyers, including Prius consumers, have had the perception that they must make certain compromises, like a lack of style or fun, when buying the cars, he said. "What this campaign is out to do is to change people's perception of what they get when they buy a Prius -- so this is the new possible."

As Automotive News recently reported, the Prime "is basically for buyers who want to dip their toes into the electric-car market but don't want to take any chances with range anxiety or pay a premium they may not be able to recover in fuel savings."

The car's base sticker price, with shipping, is $27,965. Buyers are eligible for federal tax credits of up to $4,500. When in hybrid mode the Prime can run on gasoline, or use the electric motor alone, or a combination of both. It has an electric-only range of 25 miles.

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