Eyes umbrella campaign: Toyota seeks to 'stretch brand'

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Toyota Motor Corp. is weighing an umbrella brand campaign for the 2005 model year to provide a unified marketing message for its 18 different lines.

Toyota Division executives said the company's familiar tagline, "Get the Feeling," is just that: a tagline, not a brand message. "Toyota has a message of quality, durability and reliability, and we are blessed that we don't have to advertise it," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Division VP-marketing. "It's a challenge when you have a wide variety of products. It's hard to stretch the brand. It's more effective to build around the individual models."

There are two main schools of thought on branding. One is to advertise each product and have a connected message among all the ads, which has been Toyota's strategy so far. The other is to create a broad theme that can be cascaded down onto individual models in the consumer's mind. That is what Toyota is considering.

Formulating the brand image will be a main task for Kurt Ritter, the former Chevrolet general manager who defected to form a consultancy with Toyota as his only client.

"We're looking to get more feeling, humanity and diversity, something more impactful," said Mr. Lentz. "We'll see that as a result of Kurt working with us and [Toyota shop] Saatchi & Saatchi." Mr. Ritter, as architect of Chevrolet's "Like a Rock" truck campaign, launched one of the most enduring and recognizable messages for one of the industry's best-selling vehicle lines. Mr. Lentz hopes Mr. Ritter, who declined to comment, can replicate that magic for Toyota.

Toyota Division spent $369 million on advertising in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

"The landscape is changing, with the cost of media going up, but with reach dropping," Mr. Lentz said. "Nobody has the tonnage to throw dollars against the market. You have to look to your message to cut through the clutter."

While there are some economies to brand advertising, Mr. Lentz noted that, historically, "Brand ads are the first to go when push comes to shove. It always goes back to product."


In the 2003 model year, Toyota packaged groups of similar products and advertised them under the Toyota umbrella, as seen in the recent "Mileage" campaign that trumpeted Toyota's fuel efficiency.

But it isn't always as simple as that, Mr. Lentz said. For instance, while all of Toyota's sport wagons and SUVs will have vehicle stability control for the 2004 model year, it makes for a difficult advertising hook-given the wildly different demographics for RAV4, 4Runner and Land Cruiser customers.

But Toyota likely will give it a shot. "You have customers with household incomes ranging from $55,000 to $225,000, and different ratios of male and female buyers, so it's hard to target with media," Mr. Lentz said.

germane and authentic

Toyota's challenge will be to create a brand campaign that is germane and authentic, according to Charlie Hughes, the former head of North American operations for Land Rover and Mazda, and now principal of Brand Rules in Newport Beach, Calif.

But in Toyota's case, being authentic creates a linked problem-its vehicles, while of high quality, are not particularly emotive. "You can't pour advertising holy water on products that are boring,"Mr. Hughes said.

Steve Saxty, the former head of FutureBrand's automotive practice, said Toyota needs a brand vision.

"It's hard, because they're making tons of money," Mr. Saxty said. "But otherwise they risk stagnation. Toyota makes bland products beautifully, and they need a higher calling than that."

mark rechtin is a staff reporter at automotive news

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