Existence Precedes Essence In Toyota Yaris Campaign


Alain Robbe-Grillet meets Brecht, meets Bunuel, meets existentialism meets HTML 5, Google Chrome, and about 10 million geeks in Saatchi + Saatchi's LA's latest contrarian campaign for a Toyota vehicle.

The digital and social media campaign for the car positions the car as...a car. The effort goes against the grain in a marketing moment in which automakers, seeing consumers fleeing larger vehicles for sub-compacts, are positioning b-segment vehicles as rolling cornucopias of technology with more on-board gadgets than an Airbus.

The effort for Yaris, however, simply focuses on the vehicle's essence. "Yaris," says the campaign frontispiece, "It's a car." (for a cultural reference, one might recall Robert De Niro in "Deer Hunter," where he holds a 30.06 bullet in front of his clueless hunting buddy's face -- a guy who had forgotten his proper hiking boots -- and says " this.")



The campaign features a Web site, appropriately called The site stars actor, comedian and NYU faculty member Michael Showalter in a series of Google Chrome/HTML 5 powered videos that border on performance art a la the Living Theatre or La Mama. The site is also an unusual techno-amalgam that involves WebGL and Socket-to-Socket technology where viewers can also interact with the content and play different oddball games.

The videos have Showalter interacting with the car in different episodes featuring characters like Father Time, a bunch of kids playing a bunch of kids, and clones of Showalter. In the Father Time video, there's a truly bizarre moment where the two are, for no apparent reason, trying to hum at the same pitch. Then there's a segment where Showalter is ad-libbing Brechtian lines as the car is superimposed on different animals. As for content about the car's features, Showalter makes fun of the whole convention of the auto-advertisement feature deep-dive, pointing out that the car has four wheels and seats.

"It's very simple almost Apple-esque way of discussing it," says Margaret Keene, executive creative director, Saatchi + Saatchi LA. "But because of the people we are talking to, we have to put it through the filter of fun, otherwise we would lose them."

Who is this skittish target? The digital/social media campaign positions the Yaris as a no-frills vehicle and is designed to appeal to those whom the agency, through its own in-house research, identifies as "make believers." Keene says this is a multifarious population inhabiting five major psychographic silos, broadly termed coin collectors, gadget geeks, idea integration types, comedy, gaming, and cuteness (Hello Kitty fanatics, for example.)

What they have in common is an obsession with their respective passions that borders on the devotional. Keene says that their orientation in life makes them interested in a car only as a mode of transportation.

"The reality is that the majority of these people want utility and mobility; they want to plug in their iPod and get where they want to go." But she adds that it also makes them very easy to reach because of the specificity of their interests. "Once you kind of see the landscape and the layout, it's pretty crazy, but this strategy is really built in their social and digital lives," she says.

One example, according to Keene, is folks who line up at Apple stores 48 hours before the latest iPad hits shelves, and upload videos of themselves removing the gadgets from packaging -- a ritual that has come to be known as "geek porn."

There's actually an element to the campaign where the car gets an "unboxing" by Gizmodo's Adam Frucci.

Nicole McDonald, art director at the agency, says Showalter is a big part of the tone of the campaign because "He is someone who a lot of people in that group recognize," she says. "He's funny, dry, not too cynical, quirky -- and in a strange way he's in that demographic. He basically doesn't care about cars. He gets the campaign."

She says that the campaign involves a huge digital media buy around partnerships aimed at getting the car in front of the consumers within the five areas through sites like, I Can Haz Cheezburger, Marvel and the Xbox original series "Your Dungeon, My Dragon."

Ann Mack, trendspotter at JWT in New York, says the appeal of a bare-bones car and a campaign of this type may actually have an appeal much broader than iPad fanatics. "Because of the economy, and recent events people in general are living a more stripped-down life because they realize less is more," she says. "Simple pleasures, face-to-face time, taking time out and savoring the moment, are appealing in uncertain times."

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