When Toyota Corp. marketing specialist Toshihiro Hidaka, 39, heard about the RAV-4, he knew he was in for some serious fun (to borrow a line from the advertising). "The concept of a four-wheel drive with passenger car accessibilit y is brilliant," said Mr. Hidaka.That's why he and Tokyo agency Nambokusha Inc. opted to highlight the vehicle's versatility for the Japanese launch in September 1994. The $14 million "Just 4 You" campaign used TV and magazines to dress up the RAV-4 as the ideal car for skiers, beach bums and city cruisers. "The RAV-4 was the first campaign done emphasizing its usage for a variety of recreational activities," said Mr. Hidaka. "Other car manufacturers l ike Nissan and Mitsubishi have since picked up on this." Mr. Hidaka felt that the RAV-4 (short for recreational active vehicle four-wheel drive) had enough appeal to sell on its own. But in Japan, where celebrity endorsements are common, this was not to be. Ads featuring heartthrob Takuya Kimura helped to propel 1996 sales to 41,886 through October, for a 16.5% share of recreational vehicle sales. Ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi
Advertising Worldwide, which han dled the RAV-4's launch outside Japan during the past year, didn't hesitate to learn from the Japanese success. "Our ads don't list a range of features or show demonstrations of the car," said Joe Cronin, vice chairman at Saatchi in Torrance, Calif. "We were able to use a fresh approach because the RAV-4 is a new kind of vehicle for Toyota in a new kind of category."TV ads in Australia-the first RAV-4 market outside Japan-equated the RAV-4 with freedom, symbolized by a scene of a bird breaking out of a cage cutting to a flock of birds flying through the vehicle's sunroof. Australia also got an eyeful of claymation-type camels that leap into the RAV-4 for a daredevil ride. Sales in Australia climbed to 4,000 during 1996. "What we learned from Australia is that we could break a list of 40 rules and our target still understood the message," said Mr. Cronin. When the RAV-4 was launched in the U.K. and Belgium late last year, Saatchi again tried an unconventional approach. TV ads in the U.K., for example, featured nostalgic glimpses, like a dog being encapsulized for a journey to the moon, to demonstrate that if viewers remember this, t he RAV-4 isn't for them. European sales reached 30,000 this year.Creative ads aside, the RAV-4 has been a hit partly because of Mr. Hidaka weighing in on the vehicle's design. For instance, he insisted that the RAV-4 be equipped wi th a bumper guard for a more rugged appearance.The only lament Mr. Hidaka has is that the vehicle has spawned copycats like Honda's CRV line, which has sold 83,500 this year in Japan. Unike the RAV-4, however, the CRV wasn't availa ble outside Japan until late this year.