They say music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, but hath it charms to stimulate additional sales in a cloudy economic climate for an already popular automobile?
That's the $160 million question being posed by Toyota Motor Sales USA and its agency, Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, as they ready what they are calling the largest campaign in the 43 years Toyota has been in the American market. The campaign - involving artists as diverse as Lyle Lovett; Earth, Wind and Fire; John Lennon; and the Go-Gos - will peddle the 2002 version of the Camry, the bread-and-butter Toyota midsize sedan that has been the nation's top-selling passenger car for the last four years.
The campaign is indicative of the intensification of efforts to sell products in competitive categories like automobiles as consumers demonstrate increasing reluctance to spend while the economy sputters. The Japanese-based automakers like Toyota have been maintaining or increasing the size of their marketing budgets - and have recently been gaining market share at the expense of their American-based rivals.
A central aspect of the Camry campaign is Toyota's buying of commercial time and advertising space configured in customized packages from three media giants: AOL Time Warner, the Condé Nast Publications division of Advance Publications and the MSN network of Internet services operated by the Microsoft Corporation. The packages include elements that bundle together disparate media properties; the packages at AOL Time Warner, for instance, involve cable television networks, magazines and Web sites.
"We've been trying for a number of years to have the big media conglomerates talk to us as one instead of in pieces," said Steve Sturm, vice president for marketing at Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance, Calif., part of the Toyota Motor Company.
"It was a struggle to get them to do that when they had more business than time and space to sell," he added. "Now that the environment is a lot more competitive, the worldwide conglomerates are saying, `This can be stronger if we put it all together,' and we can have a much bigger launch than we would have if we bought all the segments separately."
The ads appearing in the cross- media packages as well as in the traditional outlets bought one medium at a time are meant to help Toyota cultivate interest among car shoppers who do not usually consider Camry, particularly men in their 30's and 40's, while retaining its traditional appeal to its core buyers, women in their 40's and 50's.
"Music seemed to be the best unifying element, the best way to get to all the different consumer groups," said Scott Gilbert, chief executive at Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, also based in Torrance, the longtime Toyota agency that is part of the Saatchi & Saatchi division of the Publicis Groupe. "I was interviewing people for openings last week - the market's very much alive out here - and the first three said, `I hate country music' and the fourth one said, `I love country music.' When it comes to music, there's no one answer."
The cross-media parts of the campaign "make Camry feel like it's everywhere, like it's important," Mr. Gilbert said, "like an event, a rock concert, a concert tour."
There's that music thought again.
The music initiatives for the redesigned Camry, carrying the punning theme "Making tracks," include a multimedia enhanced compact disc with songs by artists like Mr. Lovett and the Go-Gos and links to the artists' and Toyota's Web sites; sponsorship of the MTV Video Music Awards and VH1 My Music Awards with the MTV and VH1 divisions of Viacom; an ad insert in seven Condé Nast magazines centered on the compact disc, which will be sold to raise funds for a new Camry Music Education Fund; an ad insert in the Sept. 24 "Music Goes Global" issue of Time magazine, which will also appear in nine other Time Inc. magazines; sponsorship of "Come Together: A Night for John Lennon," a special on the TNT cable network; and sponsorship of music news and feature reports on the "Showbiz Today" and "Showbiz This Weekend" programs on the CNN cable network.
"We've had a couple deals with automakers, but nothing of this magnitude," said Bob Pittman, co-chief operating officer at AOL Time Warner, which owns Time Inc., TNT, CNN and other properties that Toyota is buying for the Camry campaign like the Web sites of Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, Money and People.
One reason, he added, is that "the ability of a media company to provide a complete package, and do the coordination, is increasingly important to advertisers" - and that was "one of the motivations for the merger" of America Online and Time Warner that formed AOL Time Warner.
As for concerns that cross-media packages concentrate too much power in the hands of a handful of media behemoths, "I don't think anyone these days is too concerned about the concentration of power in the sellers' hands," Mr. Pittman said, laughing. Other advertisers buying cross-media packages from AOL Time Warner include Bank of America, Philips, Qwest, Samsung and Swatch.
The Camry campaign, which will present a new sporty model named Camry SE aimed at the younger, male car buyers, is the first that will feature a revamped Toyota ad theme. "Toyota. Everyday," which lasted for two years, is being replaced by "Get the feeling," echoing the popular "Oh, what a feeling" theme that ran from 1985 to 1989.
"Get the feeling" is intended to "play off the emotional aspect of the new Camry," Mr. Sturm said, adding: "We have a car - wider, longer, faster, more fun to drive - that consumers have told us has made them go from needing a Camry to wanting a Camry. From that point of view, we felt we needed to do the launch in an emotional way."
Music, needless to say, stirs emotion, almost as much as did "Toyota. Everyday," which had grammarians debating whether Toyota meant "Every day," for ubiquity and dependability, rather than "Everyday," for ordinary and plebian.
Saatchi & Saatchi executives hope that the Camry campaign, now getting under way, will help damp down widespread speculation in trade publications that Toyota Motor Sales USA is unhappy with the agency's work.
"I don't lose sleep any more" over the speculation, Mr. Gilbert said. "All we can do is do the work, and do it well."
Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. August 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.