Toyota asks you to swallow the red pill on its elaborate Matrix prank site
Before coming up with a strategy for selling the Toyota Matrix to men under 35 (with twentysomethings being the key market), Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles did some research into the mindset of the demographic.
The result? The agency discovered that these dudes hate advertising. They also hate corporations. Oh, and these guys are also tired of how everything is becoming commercialized these days, and they actively push away from the companies that advertise to them. Which begs the question: How do you surmount that kind of attitude? You work around it.
Saatchi found an "in" to exploit when research also showed these young men love to play pranks on each other. So the agency, relying on Mekanism's Web video expertise and iChameleon Group for Web site development, provided them with material for an elaborate practical joke in the "Your Other You" experience. It's "about empowering the consumer," Saatchi creative director Dino Spadavecchia says. "We wanted them to be involved and to feel like they were part of the process."
Print, outdoor and online banner ads drive traffic to the site, yourotheryou.com, where visitors can sign up to have one of five fictional characters - including a heavy metal maniac, a soccer hooligan and a guy in a raccoon costume - bug a friend for five days via a barrage of text messages, phone calls, e-mails and videos.
The idea is to freak out your friend by making him think that this person, who has personal information ranging from your buddy's address and phone number to his alma mater, is on his way for a visit.
The campaign launched in February.
Saatchi went to great lengths to make the prank Google-proof by providing fully realized lives for these characters online. The heavy metal guy, for instance, has a band site and a MySpace page, and the agency even recorded an album for him.
"Even when you get several stages in, it's still looking pretty real," Saatchi creative director Alex Flint says. "I think even the most cynical, anti-advertising guy will appreciate the depth and length to which we've gone."
But will a panel of digital creatives? OMMA sprang the prank on Organic's Conor Brady, Chad Currie of T3, and Ogilvy New York's Adam Lau to see if they were amused.
OMMA: Do you think advertising-adverse guys will be motivated to punk their friends with this prank?
Currie: I would expect so. I can't be sure because things like this are so new, but I think it's a much better way to approach [marketing the vehicle] than shouting from the rooftops like the old style might have been.
Lau: It is really a nice idea. It's a good idea to get people engaged with the brand. The one big obstacle is whether people want to hand out their friends' phone numbers.
OMMA: Maybe this demographic is more open to sharing personal information online?
Lau: Yeah, and that's the caveat on that comment. I think the younger male demographic is definitely more transparent about their private lives. They're much more willing to give up pictures of themselves or give out their personal information.
OMMA: Still, you have concerns?
Lau: I would still have concerns.
OMMA: So if you were on the receiving end of this, you wouldn't be fooled?
Brady: I think it's too obvious.
OMMA: What do you make of the prank sign-up process in terms of length and complexity?
Currie: It was a pretty big investment right up front, and I thought that the sign-in process was very abstract. I was wishing that they had given me a little more of an idea of what I was getting into. It took me a while to get a sense of what this was.
OMMA: So you would have liked more information up front about how the prank would play out?
Currie: Yeah. There's a value exchange. I need to know what I'm getting in return.
OMMA: I enjoyed being able to keep track of the prank on that dashboard of sorts, which let me know what messages my friend was receiving as the prank progressed through its five-day run.
Brady: That, to me, was the interesting part of this, where it had evolved from other things I'd seen. Really, what's the fun in a joke if you can't see the expression on someone's face or find out what's happening? I thought that was a nice evolution of the prank.
OMMA: Saatchi went all out in creating online lives for the characters. Do you think consumers appreciate that kind of attention to detail?
Lau: I liked the detail that they put into creating backgrounds around each character and their stories. I've seen other campaign like this, but the comprehensiveness with which they executed this is one of the best I've ever seen.
Brady: They did a great job of actually constructing the characters, but, again, it was the slight lack of believability around them that made me feel it was too much of a spoof and that I wasn't going to get suckered in.
OMMA: So you would have liked more realistic characters? Say a creepy classmate from college?
Brady: Yeah. Or, you know the spam e-mails you get from the guy in Africa who all of a sudden has 10 million to put in your bank account? If someone like that character contacted you, it would be weird and part of that scary Internet subculture. If they tapped into that a little bit, it could have been really interesting.
OMMA: To play devil's advocate: Maybe the characters have to be a little exaggerated and not so real so as not to scare off or offend people.
Brady: With this demographic, their skin's pretty thick, and most of the offense [on the Internet], to be honest, has probably been created by this demographic, so they can take this stuff and not get wound up about it.
OMMA: The Toyota Matrix is integrated into the videos that are part of the prank because the characters drive the vehicle, but there isn't an overt pitch until the end when you are invited to learn more about the car. Was it a good idea to take a light hand in promoting the vehicle within the prank?
Currie: I wouldn't have had them do it any more than they did. The car is not prominent, but it is consistent [throughout the prank].
Lau: I thought it was just a branding vehicle - a point of view, an attitude. If that was the goal of the campaign, it's fine as is.
OMMA: How does Your Other You compare to what other carmakers are doing online?
Lau: In the category, it's very different.
Brady: I think that's where it probably stands out. Every car manufacturer takes a very straightforward, hard-sell approach about getting the product in front of you and saying, "Here's the top five features in this car." But they were willing to take a risk here to push you down a different way of looking at the car.
OMMA: Do you give the client credit for taking a chance on a rather complex, ambitious approach?
Currie: Absolutely. I associate this brand with more bold online stuff. Toyota just seems to get it.