Toyota Uses Subtle Approach In Prius Effort

John LiskoToyota devoted a chunk of its marketing budget for the 2010 Prius to experiments with non-traditional ways of using traditional media. The resulting programs have been more art installation with environmental and interconnectivity than "Buy Prius Now."

The automaker has been putting outdoor, flower-shaped WiFi and digital recharging stations in parks in cities like Boston, New York and Chicago, and a just-launched "Harmony Floralscape" along California highways. The latter, a series of pointillist designs that use flowers as "pixels," was a joint venture with the California Department of Transportation and an L.A.-based firm, Greenroad Media, that develops organic roadside imagery.

John Lisko, executive communications director, Saatchi & Saatchi L.A., Toyota's lead agency, says the subtle approach is central to the campaign's "Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine" theme.



The effort includes a partnership with Good magazine, called "A Road Map to Harmony," featuring inserts of posters and online documentary video shorts looking at nine issues affecting the global population -- coexistence, health, education, connectivity, exchange, energy, earth, flora and fauna, and sustenance. It was in summer issues of Good and the Sunday New York Times on July 19.

Marketing Daily discussed the campaign with Lisko.

Q: What do all of the elements have in common with the campaign?

A: The glue that holds it all together is deep understanding of our customers; for Prius, it is not limited by age qualifiers and traditional demographics. It's a customer who takes pride and pleasure in leading an ecological and technology lifestyle.

Q: I understand that there's no overt branding with the floralscape designs. How do passing drivers know that it's sponsored by Toyota?

A: There are a couple of things. For the more blatant in-your-face name recognition, we have a sign in front-facing oncoming traffic like the signs one sees that say: "This section of the highway is sponsored by ..." But we'd like to think that given the insane traffic in and around L.A. and San Francisco, [and] because the units are so big and the images so distinctive that, coupled with the signs, people will know.

Q: Will you do the floralscapes in other cities if they prove successful in California?

A: The short answer is that yes, we have thought about doing it elsewhere. First, we believe in an "attempt and learn" philosophy, which is consistent with "Kaizen" (Toyota's continuous improvement mantra). So we want to see how this will work in California, then we will reassess; the media company we are working with is working with other states; and there are a few we are considering at this point.

Q: What about the program with Good? In what sense does that address the Prius customer?

A: It's a call to action: How do we achieve harmony by asking the right questions and acting on answers. It goes back to understanding who our customers are. The thing we know about the Prius customer is community is important to them. It means social media, but it also means real-life community, in the towns and communities where they live.

That's where it became real interesting for us because these are people who want to take action within the communities they live in. We developed the "Road Map to Harmony" with Good because we believe they are a brand that is a credible third-party source for communicating positive ideas about harmony and balance, which translates to the message and tonality of the Prius launch. We treated Good as a creative partner in developing the insert.

Q: The Prius campaign has been on the ground for some weeks now. What are the early results?

A: There has been a terrific amount of positivity around the message, and our KPIs (key performance indicators) show it is headed in right direction. We have also had a lot of positive feedback on the non-traditional elements from traditional media, blogs and places like Twitter.

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