Toyota hits touch points as it hawks Yaris to youth

MADISON + VINE A case study in connecting with those elusive 18-to-34s

By Published on .

Myspace? check. A video game? Check. How about mobisodes? Of course.

Like many automakers these days, Toyota Motor Sales USA is embracing branded entertainment as a way to launch a vehicle-in this case the new subcompact Yaris sedan and hatchback. But whereas many marketers have simply produced one-offs such as short films or advergames or sponsored music tours, Toyota's agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, is making sure the carmaker is employing every platform it can.

That's especially important for the demographic it's going after.

Toyota is targeting 18-to-34-year-olds with the Yaris, hoping that 30% of the cars purchased go to people under 30. In order to make that happen, it's trying to give the small car a personality-something it feels its previous models have lacked-calling the Yaris "cheeky, irreverent and mischievous," which matches the car's styling.

"We wrote a voice for this car, we gave it a personality and we created a world for it to live in. We knew that, rather than just speaking to our audience, the car had to behave as one of them," said Saatchi Creative Director Harvey Marco. "When we had our character, we decided to keep the car front and center through all of the communications, rather than portraying who would drive it, as you might in a regular campaign."

To reach out to younger buyers, the marketer had to make sure the Yaris was everywhere they spend time. That involves a largely screen-based media plan, including:

Mobile: Toyota will launch "Prison Break: Proof of Innocence," a mobile-phone series of 26 episodes available to Sprint customers that's spun off from the hit Fox drama and introduces a new character. Each two-minute "mobisode" will be preceded by a 10-second ad showing off the Yaris, making the project the first ad-supported, scripted mobisode. The effort won't be written by the show's staff writers or feature its regular cast members. However, the effort will be promoted in spots set to air during the show in May when the mobisodes are launched. The phone series will eventually appear on a separate Web site created by Fox and Toyota. The entire project is said to have cost around $10 million to produce.

The Internet: Taking a page from the latest user-generated-content craze, Yaris will sponsor a contest on CurrentTV's Web site, enabling consumers to create their own three-minute commercials, with the theme "What would you do with your Yaris?" Yaris will naturally have its own Web site (, which will feature original content, including online city guides taking visitors on virtual drive-alongs of hotspots.

Social-networking sites: Yaris has a profile page on, allowing members to design and share their own templates. Yaris has more than 38,000 "friends" on the site. On the more college-based, Yaris will host and promote a custom community that will promote local events.

Events: In March, Toyota used the South by Southwest Music festival in Austin, Texas, to preview the car and distribute blank CDs for people to download festival music from a Yaris-sponsored Web site.

Video games: The Yaris kicks off Toyota's first foray into gaming, with the car serving as the title sponsor of the Evolution Fighting Championships in July and August. Additionally, Toyota is ponying up $20,000 for the person who creates the best Yaris cellphone game at DigiPen School of Technology, a school focused on animation and video-game development. And Yaris and Microsoft's Xbox 360 will launch the first driving game for Xbox Live Arcade. It will also have a heavy presence at the E3 video-game convention in Los Angeles in May.

All of this is in addition to an integration of the Yaris into Fox's comedy show "MadTV" through a series of sketches built around the car. Those began airing in March. That deal was brokered by Toyota's product-placement agency, Brand Arc, and Madison Road Entertainment.

No checklist

Saatchi stressed that it didn't just use a checklist to come up with which platforms it used. Its choices were based on internal research of how younger consumers consume entertainment. For example, "Prison Break" was chosen because it's the No. 1 show among 16-to-35-year-olds.

"We challenge the word 'checklist,"' said David Murphy, president of Saatchi. "The reason why a lot of integrated marketing seems tired is that it's approached like a checklist. This is a youth-marketing initiative. There's no one stereotypical definition of youth anymore. You have to go deep in the areas that really defines the culture of this audience."

Mr. Marco adds: "People say that the youth market doesn't watch TV or read magazines. That's not true. They truly do consume mass media. They won't consume it in a broad-scale sense. When they find things they really like, they go deep. If they love a TV show, they want a blog around the back story, want to download mobisodes, go online and chat with friends about it. They're using mass-media entertainment in ways that fit their passion."

As for user-generated content, Saatchi executives said it was important to recognize that its audience is creative and has a need for self-expression. Toyota wanted to provide consumers with those tools-to a point. "Our overall campaign is about the democratization of design for all," Mr. Murphy said. "It's not about customization. It's a mass-market vehicle, but elevates what you can get for your money. Yaris becomes a participant in that world of design and creative thinking."

He added, "We're trying to apply this way of thinking to everything we do. Every great brand has a story to tell. We're looking at all of these areas as chapters in a great story."
Most Popular
In this article: