Toyota touts an ugly Celica in compact spots that hum

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Selling the Toyota Celica via TV advertising comes with two built-in obstacles. The first is a superficial one:

The car is an eyesore. Uglier than a sack of carp, if you ask us. The Celica is supposed to look sporty and sleek, but it's just overly contoured and malproportioned-like a pubescent boy, all hands and feet and testosterone he doesn't know what to do with.

The second obstacle is more historical in nature. Namely, the history of Toyota's TV advertising.

Think about the history of, say, Buick's TV advertising. Not much to grab onto there, because it has been basically forgettable for 50 years. But try.

OK, got it? All right, next to Toyota, Buick TV advertising is "The Matrix." Toyota advertising has been so insipid and so soporific for so long that it was ridiculed, in a 90-second commercial, by a group of Ontario auto dealers.

Ontario Toyota dealers, who let Gee Jeffrey & Partners, Toronto, send up the stupid "Oh, what a feeling!" jump-for-joy that for so long was the brand's pitiful trademark. (The ad is hilarious, featuring an interview with a temperamental director trying to choreograph the leap. "The point is" he says, pompously, "I know what cuts through ... It's about the film. It's not about me. It's about the film.")

That, as we in the journalism field like to say, is the context. So there we were the other day watching TV (The Bravo channel. James Lipton was "Inside the Actor's Studio," if memory serves, interviewing Cheech and Chong) and on comes a pair of back-to-back 15-second spots for the Celica.

Are you sitting down?

These were two of the cleverest car ads we have ever seen.

No lie. The first spot shows a dog running and barking in pursuit of a passing car. But then there's a thud, because the car-a red Celica-is simply parked at the curb and the dog runs right into it.

The onscreen message: "Looks fast."

Immediately thereafter comes a second :15. The same red Celica is parked at the curb, and some old geezer across the street is glaring at it.

"Slow down!" he shouts. "This is a neighborhood!" He glares a while more, then mutters, "Punk." Then, again, onscreen: "Looks fast."

Well, let's suppose it does, with its oversized rear spoiler that looks like it belongs on a cargo plane. Perhaps we here at Ad Review are too caught up in the subjective issue of the car's INTENSE HIDEOUSNESS to validly reflect on how fast it looks. (On the other hand, the otherwise stylish and well-crafted reintroduction of the Camry, to our mind, is also compromised by its premise: that "one look" at the redesign will make you want one. In actuality, the new Camry is just another inoffensive brick of tofu.)

Anyway, back to Celica: what a concept, communicating thrilling performance while a) fixing the camera on the stationary vehicle, permitting the viewer to ogle it, and b) drawing the viewer into the mystery of what the payoff will be.

There's a second pairing, too. In that one, after the dog :15, we see another static shot of the neighborhood street. Only this time, instead of the old crank, we hear the off-camera sound of a loudspeaker. "Red Celica. Pull over." A motorcycle cop appears in the frame and screeches to a halt next to the parked car.

The puke-spewingly unsightly parked car, which, he is puzzled to discover, is empty.

It's just a marvelous idea. And so was the notion of using :15s to make the joke twice, as opposed to using 30 seconds to draw the gag out beyond the limits of its tensile strength.

Toyota's new tag line is "Get the Feeling," which is supposed to be reminiscent of the leaping morons of yore. Never mind that. The breakthrough is that the anaesthestists at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi have finally stopped the flow of thiopentothal. And finally, from Toyota:

A sensation.

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