ANATOMY OF A BUY - Hybrid Campaign for a Hybrid Car

The launch of Toyota’s Prius gasoline/electric car got underway with some truly innovative marketing

Way back when we all had to learn the 4 “P”s of marketing—product, price, promotion and place—many professors emphasized the idea that unique products demand unique promotion. Subsequently, we spent years looking for proof that such concepts actually exist in real life and have been both lucky and disappointed in that quest. For all those cynics out there, here’s an example of a campaign that took into consideration the product itself and structured a media plan accordingly.

The much-anticipated U.S. launch of Prius, Toyota’s revolutionary gasoline/electric hybrid car, got underway recently with the unveiling of a truly innovative marketing campaign spearheaded by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., along with Saatchi & Saatchi of Los Angeles and Oasis Advertising of New York. These guys seem to have covered every imaginable media, but first a word about the product.

With more than 35,000 cars already on the road in Japan, the Prius is a commercial success. It hit the US showrooms in July with a suggested price of under $20K, complete with ABS brakes, air conditioning, power windows and AM/FM cassette stereo system. Doesn’t sound very unique so far, right. Here’s the differentiator: Prius is the world’s first mass-produced vehicle to use a combination of electric and gasoline power to boost fuel efficiency and lower exhaust emissions. A four-door five-passenger sedan, it requires no charging stations, nor any change in consumer driving habits.

Quite a tall order, but that’s why the campaign theme, “PRIUS/genius,” was not only reflective of the new technology, but of the creative web-based marketing approach.

The inherent challenge of marketing new technology to a new audience led Toyota marketing to utilize a unique tactic. For nearly two years, the campaign has revolved around developing a dialogue with interested consumers. This resulted in a pool of over 40,000 interested consumers or “hand raisers.”

These prospects were given early access to the Prius micro site ( and its special order feature, so even before arriving in showrooms across the country, nearly 1,800 of the revolutionary Toyota Prius have been sold via online purchase requests. Toyota dealers started placing U.S. orders for the world’s first mass-produced gasoline/electric hybrid vehicle on June 30, 2000. The site officially opened to the public on July 14. And who said no one would ever buy cars online.

But this unique car demanded a unique media plan. Broadcast and print advertising combined with interactive, outdoor and lifestyle marketing were fully synthesized within a campaign that aimed to intrigue the buyer to make the intelligent choice, without compromising comfort, convenience or performance.

Here are some highlights:

- Broadcast Advertising— :30 and :15 commercials beginning July 31 communicated innovation in technology and the benefits for the environment and the consumer.

- Print Advertising—Three print ads behind the “PRIUS/genius” theme had a strong presence in consumer magazines and newspapers. Key categories included: business/finance, environmental, technology/computer, thought leader and automotive enthusiast publications.

- Outdoor Advertising—Seven outdoor postings started in August in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York Metro and Chicago.

- Interactive Advertising & Marketing—Banner and button advertising began in August on search engines and automotive sites. Prius media buyers opted for high impact positioning of vertical placement ads and sponsorships on news/business, technology, finance, health, environmental and women websites. They also decided to run :15 video ads on USA Today online and excite@home, and sent E-commercials to approximately 40,000 Prius “hand raisers.”

As part of this last interactive component, Toyota worked with MindArrow Systems, a provider of hosted, web-based ASP solutions designed to replace printed brochures and direct mail with electronic multimedia messages. MindArrow distributed interactive, multimedia eBrochures® to consumers who opted-in to receive information via email about these new vehicles. Toyota had employed a similar multimedia campaign in conjunction with MindArrow surrounding the launch of the MR2 Spyder in April, resulting in an overall response rate of 18%.

To promote the Prius, MindArrow distributed a “sneak peek” eBrochure to 45,000 recipients prior to the debut of the Prius national television campaign. The eBrochure featured a 17-second video clip from the TV commercial, provided hyperlinks to the Prius website and brochure request page, and also allowed viewers to forward the interactive message to a friend. The television spot, highlighting the Prius’ ecologically-sensitive attributes, debuted the first day the Prius was officially available in the U.S.

The result? According to Toyota, to date, 46% of the individuals who viewed the eBrochure clicked through to the Prius site and 36% clicked on the link to request additional information.

Additionally, Prius experimented with lifestyle and sponsorship marketing, where Prius was the sponsor and official pace car of the American Lung Association’s Big Ride Across America. Additionally, vehicle displays and sponsorships included Nabisco Golf Championship, Gravity Games, Skins Games, and technology trade shows (COMDEX and CES). The company also offered special gifts to buyers during the “wait period” between order submission and vehicle delivery.

“Prius enthusiasts have been following the development and availability of this new technology for more than two years,” said Steve Sturm, VP of marketing for TMS. “We wanted to reward the enthusiastic reception for Prius among these early intenders by offering them the first opportunity to submit an online purchase request.”

In order for consumers to evaluate the Prius for an extended length of time, not just a short test-drive, 100% of the initial build will be allocated to a special dealer rental program. Interested consumers will be able to drive a Prius for up to one full day. This special demo program began in mid-July with the arrival of Prius at over 900 participating dealers.

Will the car be a success in the U.S.? Who knows? But does this qualify for a media plan to match the product? You bet.

Next story loading loading..