DeGeneres Pitches Toyota Highlander In Retro 'Spot'

Boomers may remember Jack Paar and Ed Sullivan pausing to pitch their favorite cigarette. Talk show maven Ellen DeGeneres, who on Friday pitched the hybrid gas/electric version of Toyota's Highlander SUV during her daytime television series, has resurrected that ritual from the golden age of television. In the 30-second retro "spot" she compared features of the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to elements of her own show.

Toyota is the first marketer to be involved in the live commercial on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," but Emily King, associate media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota's AOR, says that Toyota may be featured again, as DeGeneres will be doing one live commercial per month.

DeGeneres, in the pitch, demonstrated the folding second row seat, and then said that her second row also folds. Cut to the second row of her audience, which is folding her laundry.

She says the Highlander has a backup camera, but then so does her show, a fact she demonstrates by pointing to cameraman standing behind her. Per King, Toyota got extra stage time when DeGeneres ended her show by lying on top of the SUV and telling everyone to "Go out and buy a Highlander Hybrid.



In addition to being broadcast on the show, the commercial will be featured on YouTube and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show's" Web site,

King says DeGeneres came to Toyota, not the other way around. "She approached us with the idea of doing the live commercial. She drives a Prius herself and had done things with us in the past. We kind of had to let her make the final decisions on how the piece would go," she says.

Michael Teicher, executive vice president, media sales, Warner Brothers TV Group says that DeGeneres had been considering doing these kinds of in-show spots for a while. "She mentioned it last year. She's really been enamored of the history of TV, and had seen Jack Paar and others do these commercials."

Teicher says that DeGeneres will likely do such in-show ads, but "we haven't determined the frequency because we want to make sure it carries a level of exclusivity," he says. "She won't do it that frequently; it needs to stand out as something really special and if you do it every week it loses that quality."

Much of the marketing communications around the Hybrid Highlander has been wrapped into the non-hybrid Highlander campaign, including three TV spots that launched recently, per King. Although there has been one dedicated commercial for the hybrid, King says company is aiming to get mileage for the hybrid SUV through the type of product integration that DeGeneres has done.

The TV spot for Highlander Hybrid ran during last night's broadcast of Sunday Night Football on NBC. This week, NBC is running public affairs advertising called "Green is Universal" centering on so-called "pod-buster" units--25-second spots featuring tips about how to live a "green" lifestyle.

Highlander Hybrid will be one of the "green tips" sponsors, per King. She says ad pods that include the pod busters begin billboards exhorting viewers to "Stay tuned for green tips sponsored by Toyota."

The 25-second vignettes will run during shows like "The Office," "Conan", "Carson Daly" and "Phenomenon." A five-second tag for Toyota follows the vignettes, and then a Toyota commercial runs right afterward, per King.

She added that, as part of Toyota's sponsorship of the NBA this season, the company will advertise during NBA programming and for the first time, is also sponsoring the half-time broadcast feature "Sports Nation" on ESPN--which deals with current events in relation to sports, and delves into results of online polls at

The online campaign for the Highlander includes banner ads that allow consumers to pick vehicle colors, manipulate the vehicle, locate dealers and send details to one's mobile phone.

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