Toyota's T2 Says Bye-Bye To General Market

From the Model T to Y2K, auto ads have pretty much been monochromatic. While back in the ‘70s the closest thing to an Hispanic auto ad was Ricardo Montalban talking about Corinthian leather, the general market has pretty much meant Caucasian. That changed after 2000, with more urban and youth-focused auto ads.

But in some ways things haven't much changed. General market creative and media strategies assume a generic whiteness, and campaigns for Hispanic, African American and Asian American consumers are separate briefs. “General market,” such as it is, stands in contradistinction to so-called “diversity” markets. 

How about this for a new name for “general market”: transcultural mainstream? I didn't make that up. It was coined by Toyota's U.S. division and agency Saatchi & Saatchi. At the New York International Auto Show, I spoke with Jack Hollis, group VP of marketing at Toyota Motor Sales, about how the automaker has made a functional, and perceptual, shift away from the old with its new T2 (Total Toyota) agency structure. 

In practical terms, replacing general market with a “one-market, many cultures” approach certainly saves money and time. More on that in a second. But the strategy says there is such a thing as a marketing message that can reach most Americans who speak English, regardless of where they or their parents are from. 

And it means T2 agencies Saatchi & Saatchi LA, Burrell Communications, Conill, InterTrend Communications and Zenith Optimedia are now coequal in campaign ideation and strategy. Put another way, all English-language creative is collaborative between all of the agencies and informed by commonalities versus, say, Conill, Toyota’s Hispanic agency, creating English-language spots for a Latino audience. 

Says Hollis, “Total Toyota came from my belief in what the total market is actually like. And to me that means anyone who is affected by media. It's really 100% of the population.” So, he explains, instead of having numerous briefs and meetings with each agency, they work together to find transcultural commonalities, create one brief, one set of directions, and one set of targets. “All four are involved on an equal level on focus, purpose, model, proposal. So instead of agencies competing with another for production dollars, we are working to maximize customer dollars, most efficiency and most effectively." 

This approach would naturally save money, time, and the pain of having to deal with several different advertising briefs, one for each hypothetical market — and to some extent each market is a hypothetical, as something called "Hispanic" assumes everyone from a place where Spanish is the main language has more in common than people of all cultures within, say, a given income bracket. It also allows the agencies to avoid the quicksand around parsing an ethnicity to avoid alienating one sub-culture by seeming to favor another: am I speaking to Mexican Americans on the West Coast at the expense of Cuban Americans or Americans of Puerto Rican descent in the Southeast? Says Hollis, “What I didn't like was that you can take it to the nth degree. What you're telling me is that the rules of 40 years ago apply today; based on segmentation that we should be targeting each of those buyers. I don't believe that's true, first, because of the influence of Millennials. And second, society as a whole has changed.” 

It clearly makes sense to put in-language marketing into a tier II bucket, where you can address cultural and even language differences within an arbitrarily defined culture: separate in-language for Mandarin versus Cantonese. Overall, a one-market focus means a much smaller spend on “diversity,” a quarter of the paperwork and a quarter of the time normally spent in agency meetings. “Now,” says Hollis, “it's one brief, with all leadership in one meeting with me, and one media buy. One buy for the whole group.” In essence, he explains, the company took four entities working on projects separately to four entities working on it together. “The work they produce is shown in transcultural mainstream on any channel you watch it on.” 

Hollis explained how the overall banner for the most recent Camry campaign reflected transcultural ambitions and touchpoints. That led to the idea of the word “bold” as a key, and the focus on a dad as the key image, as the multiple agency principals agreed the idea worked across cultures. “Instead of agencies competing for marketing dollars, it's how are they working together for customer dollars.”

As for “general market”? Says Hollis, “We haven't used the term in 15 months.”

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