Camry retools practical image

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Toyota wants to move the Camry from sensible to sensual.

"We are trying to get away from the practical," said Don Esmond, senior VP-general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division.

Camry has been the best-selling car in the country for four years. While consumers love its dependability and quality, critics call it conventional, likening it to a pair of sensible shoes. It's been retooled for the 2002 model year, with improved styling and performance.

Mr. Esmond likened the new Camry to vanilla ice cream to which it's added chocolate chips and cherries. "Toyota has built a better Camry that will connect with consumers on a higher emotional level," he said. "We plan on being equally successful in delivering a marketing message that stirs the emotional connection to a new-car purchase."

The estimated $70 million media campaign began last week with five-second teaser spots on national broadcast and cable TV networks with the on-screen message, "You want it." A blitz begins Sept. 3 with six spots. Actor Jeff Goldblum is the new voice of Toyota and will be heard in all the division's spots. "The reinvented Camry. Trust us. You're going to want one," says Mr. Goldblum, who pitched on screen for Apple Computer until earlier this year.

In addition to TV spots, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., created a slew of print and outdoor ads. Promotions and direct marketing also will play a key role in the fifth-generation Camry launch. That includes streaming video on Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and MSN CarPoint; an online promotion with America Online; a special CD, created by Disc Marketing, featuring Jennifer Lopez and other stars along with content about Camry; an eight-page insert in seven October Conde Nast magazines profiling stars on the CD; inflight ads; a tie-in with Federated Department Stores' Macy's; and direct mail.

VP-Marketing Steve Sturm said Toyota will spend $160 million on Camry ads, promotions and direct mail. Toyota reallocated money in its ad budget toward Camry. As a result, he said, sport utilities won't get as much advertising.

Mr. Sturm said Camry's major media push runs through November. Saatchi developed the tag, "Get the feeling." It will appear in Camry spots and all future vehicle ads. It plays off an old "Toyota. Oh what a feeling" tag.

Hispanic-targeted TV commercials from Saatchi sibling Conill Advertising, New York and Torrance, break nationally Sept. 3 on Telemundo and Univision.

Wes Brown, an analyst with consultancy Nextrend, said he doesn't think the new Camry's front and rear styling is expressive enough to make an emotional connection with consumers. But he said the car's door-area styling gives Camry a "bit more distinctive profile." Mr. Brown said the '02 Camry appears to be a more evolutionary design, which makes good business sense, since a revolutionary design might alienate loyal buyers.

Nearly 98,000 Camry owners returned for a new one this model year, accounting for 38% of 2001 sales, said Mr. Edmonds. The median age of a Camry owner is 53; Toyota expects that to drop below 50 with the new model. He predicted Toyota will sell 400,000 Camrys this calendar year and more than 400,000 next year. The car starts at $18,970, up slightly from 2001.

It's no given Camry will keep the best-selling car crown in 2001. "It will be a dog fight" with American Honda Motor Co.'s Accord, which was 20,000 units ahead of Camry in sales through July, Mr. Esmond said. "We dialed down [production] on purpose" to prepare for the new Camry, he said.

Winning the car-sales crown gives you "nice bragging rights," said Mr. Brown, but younger buyers Toyota is targeting "could care less about it being the top-selling car of the year."

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