Thursday, January 21

Toyota's vision "beyond cars"

This month's Atlantic has some fine articles, including one about the Orange County Walmart I posted on a few months ago, but I'd like to bring up the advertisement on the back cover: "Toyota, We See Beyond Cars."

From Toyota, Beyond Cars
This is part of an ongoing campaign Toyota has initiated with television commercials, print ads, and a user-created web site, all geared toward imagining a world "beyond cars." I have to say this entire concept is intriguing. It reminds me of those Abercrombie and Fitch billboards filled with attractive, half-naked young people. Why would seeing a guy without a shirt on make me want to buy a shirt? You'd think I would want less clothing. But I'm sure some high-level marketing executives have a good answer to that question.

Toyota is using the same strategy here. The town depicted in this ad is probably as close as it gets to the idyllic American small town, the kind of place survey respondents have in mind when they constantly mark "small town" as an ideal living preference. There is a sharp boundary between the town and countryside, with three-story buildings running directly up to open forests and plains. The scale is small enough to be easily walkable, allowing each of the residents to have access to all town services as well as natural amenities on foot. The development is nestled right up to the hills with no mountaintop private estates (overlooking their fiefdom), and lush street trees blanket the town. All of this is symbolically envisioned through the lack of a Toyota Highlander smack in the middle of picture. Interesting.

Incidentally, I'm not sure where this picture is taken. The ad mentions Princeton, Indiana, where a Toyota factory is located (3 miles outside of), but the topography in the picture does not match Princeton. I would guess somewhere in Vermont or New Hampshire.

Here's a television commercial in the same campaign:

It also portrays the conspicuous absence of a vehicle set in an attractive American place. This downtown, like the previous place, was undoubtedly built during a time when "Ford" was what you did when you reached a river and didn't have a boat. Toyota would have been completely foreign to you. These kinds of places have slowly been withered away by businesses and homes that require ample parking ... in other words, in part at least, by Toyota. Yet Toyota knows its audience still wants this to be the kind of America we live in.

It's hard to tell what Toyota is doing with this. Are they signaling a wish, or at least an openness, to move beyond manufacturing cars to other forms of transportation? Or do they realize that most of us have no choice but to own a car, and they want to position themselves as the least-like-a-car car company on the market? The Mrs. and I do happen to own a Corolla, and until Toyota's vision of a nation beyond cars comes into being, we'll probably replace this one with another Corolla once we've driven it into the ground..


epar said...

I'd like to ascribe the same intent you do to the ad, but I suspect you're reading into it much more than was intended. By "seeing beyond cars", Toyota isn't signalling that they'll start investing in trains and trolleys. They're instead suggesting that they, in some abstract and holistic sense, care about the "communities" they serve, both by generating employment and delivering products. Since the strongest physical manifestation of a "community" is a small town, that's the type of environment they show in a TV spot. It is ironic that a car company idealizes a physical environment undermined by widespread car ownership, but less than 5% of the viewers are going to make that connection. What this caring means concretely is anybody's guess, but it doesn't mean we'll start seeing Toyota logos on streetcars anytime soon.

Smatt said...

I agree with epar. I think the ad is just trying to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy. It's not just about the car; it's about you too.

Obvious crap, of course.

Citi Group launched a huge ad campaign several years ago, too, in which it portrayed the bank as really caring for its clientele. The campaign was a success and their clients (and stock) increased as a result.

This Toyota ad is the result of this company finally realizing that there is a huge conscientious demographic who are sick and tired of being fed a cookie cutter version of America via the strip malls, fast-food and chain restaurants, and other homogenizing industries, like the auto industry.

Unfortunately for us, it's the same old company with a different marketing agency.


PS Great blog, Daniel! I don't get much time to read much electronic writing. Very glad to read some of your posts.

Anonymous said...

Toyota seems to reinvent and give a new look to automotive but yes, still with cars. Toyota has been in the business for years and was able to give the consumers other options when it comes to car preferences. In Santa Ana, used car dealers still have big clients who prefer Toyota cars. This market value of Toyota towards brand new and pre-owned vehicles shows that they still have a very strong market presence.

kabar baru said...

PS Great blog, Daniel! I don't get much time to read much electronic writing. Very glad to read some of your posts.

Clark County Traffic School said...

Hey it seems Toyota signaling that they not only care about cars but also care about society or community

Mikw said...

This picture was taken from my lot in Milton ky. The town is Madison Ind.

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John Eggers said...

I agree Toyota is better than just cars they should embrace other grand opportunities too.