Australia Toyota Yaris social media campaign Downfall

Toyota have chosen 5 or 6 agencies and have asked them to spend $15,000 each on a “social media marketing campaign”. Think “stunt” and you have a better idea of what they are talking about.. And while traditional media pitches means war to get content into banner ads, on TV and radio, when it comes…

Toyota have chosen 5 or 6 agencies and have asked them to spend $15,000 each on a “social media marketing campaign”. Think “stunt” and you have a better idea of what they are talking about.. And while traditional media pitches means war to get content into banner ads, on TV and radio, when it comes to using the same tactics in online communities, there’s damage done.  What happened to engagement, respect, conversation, collaboration, dialogue? Re: the video. If you want a different kind of engagement than social media stunts, please retweet or comment or link or something? If you are fine with it, that’s ok too. My wish for a indepth social media engagement from Toyota goes unanswered so far I guess.

Toyota Australia have given 5 agencies – well 6 but 2 are working together:

Todd Connolly, manager – new media and direct marketing at Toyota, said the company has purposefully given agencies a low budget and limited time to work on the social media ideas “so the idea comes ahead of everything else”. (BandT)

Even ahead of us, the customer I guess. By customer, I mean, people who are engaged in online community activity and may not want to be inflicted with poorly thought out, temporary, low budget, campaigns.

To put in context Toyota Yaris $15,000 budgets to come up with a social media campaign, Peter Webster National Marketing Manager for Toyota in Australia in April 2009 had $80-85 million spending power.  B&T have the details:

Toyota has revealed the agencies that have been successful in the first stage of its social media pitch – Saatchi & Saatchi, Oddfellows partnering with The Population, Hothouse, One Green Bean and Iris.

B&T Today revealed last week that Toyota is running the social media pitch, pitting eight agencies against each other with four agencies then to go head to head with their ideas in the public domain. Following on from this, the two best will produce further work in the new year.

Such was the strength of the ideas, according to Toyota’s Todd Connolly, manager – new media and direct marketing, that five have now been picked to go ahead of the original eight, instead of the planned four.

The agencies have now been given two weeks for production, working on a limited budget, understood to be $15,000 per campaign.

“We have taken the ideas from everyone involved, both from traditional above-the-line agencies and boutique agencies. All eight were of a high calibre, all were very fresh ideas,” said Connolly. (B&T Oct 20)

Now with traditional media, this would be a highly entertaining bloodletting that we could all sit back and watch. Unfortunately though, it’s the members of online communities that are the prey, and the hounds have been let loose:

The Toyota marketer did not disclose the nature of the social media campaigns given the green light, but they should be evident to the public in the near future – its expected all of the campaigns will have finished their run in around six weeks time. This is the scheduled end of the campaign, but if any of the campaigns create “groundswell”, Toyota will continue the conversation with those customers. (B&T 20 Oct)

My word, mighty good of ’em no? If they accidentally actually engage with a customer or three – God Forbid – then Toyota will deem to continue the discussion into the future.

ripple timeline

Engagement, like all good relationships, often build slowly over time. The opposite of the short head of traditional marketing where there’s lots of activity for 4-6 weeks, quick return, then drops off/dies off quickly: social media is in the long tail, with lots of listening and discussion at the beginning and a quick seed into the community later, in the long tail. Six week stunts can only damage long term engagement campaigns. Or put it this way: social media becomes social advertising, a completely different kind of relationship.

Just a word on unified brand message – 4 or 5 agencies, trying to show how different and unique they are doesn’t deliver a brand message, except one of “we will win at all costs”.

Thompson insisted that Toyota has maintained a consistent marketing message, despite the different style and tone adopted in the hybrid work and the current social media work on its Yaris brand.

“Toyota has been a fairly traditional advertiser, but we pride ourselves on being the first to market with new innovations and opportunities,” he said.

“The social media work has been very interesting and it has created a buzz. The tone does change depending on the audience, but we’ve done a lot of work to ensure the strategy is consistent.

Really? A lot of work to remain consistent? Let’s see…

  • Hothouse teamed with Blunty of YouTube (hope they are paying a minimum of $7,500 for his YouTube influence) and came up with yet another riff on the Lego funny videos. Hey, if you leave a comment you can win a car.
  • One Green Bean has a werewolf in a Yaris – you can register on Facebook or Twitter and use GPS to flag him down and get a lift to a Halloween party
  • Saatchi and Saatchi have a Clever Film Comp – enter a film mentioning Yaris, Judges award $7,000, $3,000 and $1,000. No community voting, very very basic.
  • Iris – I haven’t seen their submission.

BeamsFromVenus makes the evergreen point that social media means social

So instead of getting a bunch of agencies to out-stunt each other, why not let the consumer get hold of this first and tell Toyota what they think of the Yaris?

Yes, Saatchi asked the public to make an ad, but that’s so lame. Why ask them to be like us? “Oh Ad agencies are so cool, I would love to make an ad and be like them” Give me a break .  They should be themselves.

The point is, to be social, we need to be social… and that’s being a caring sharing community!

Isn’t that what we want?

So Toyota, stop looking for who’s who and start looking for who counts…

Matt GranfieldSaatchi and Saatchi’s idea of a film contest bores the fuck out of me to be honest.” There’s  no social media here, just the usual “create us an ad”.

But hey, Saatchi did inspire me to do the video at the top – and at least Toyota has agency people interested in buying a Yaris now, because that’s who the campaigns will mostly interest.

If you see any traditional media (or even Facebook ads) used to promote the campaigns in the next few weeks, let me know?

My questions to Toyota:

Before descending on social networks like a plague of locusts, what monitoring have they done? how did they choose their networks (all the agencies so far chose Facebook, YouTube or Twitter).

How respectful to the community members are they? Have they gained enough support and respect to ask them to help promote  your products or services?

If I had $85 million (Toyota Australia marketing spend) I’d be putting a damn sight more into social media than chucking a few dollar bills at a handful of agencies and asking them to push my product out there – and social media is NOT an experiment.

Hmmm: Lego ‘viral’ video (copied from user generated Lego videos), a lift to Halloween parties organised through Facebook, yet another “create us a user generated ad for $7000” campaign. Is that a good use of brand karma, let alone $15,000 x each agency?  By the way, what do you think of companies that get high quality professional ads, normally $30,000 and upwards, for $7,000?

Playing out agency pitch game in public – including how much community members souls are worth – is tacky but is it what I would call “on brand message?

If campaigns/stunts are part of an overall engagement strategy, what do you think Toyota’s overall strategy is? Are there ethical questions around asking agencies to fight over the souls in the communities, or is that “just business as usual”? Do you want it to be business as usual?

If you want businesses like Toyota to change, please leave a comment here, on the video or tweet it. Let’s see if the anti-brand message is stronger than the ‘campaigns’. And if it’s not? Ah well, we get the advertising future we deserve. Heh.

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  1. Brilliant commentary on how terrible Toyota’s idea is. The most glaring thing for me, beyond pitting 5 hapless agencies against each other, is the dissonance in Toyota’s branding/ messaging…have they ever heard of the saying, ‘Too many cooks…’?

    It still is sinking though – I really cannot imagine the kind of desperation that drove Toyota to do something like this! If you are able to check what each agency finally did, please do post your views on that too – could be a good lesson on the kind of takeaway this messy task delivers.

  2. I agree with you and all, but I do love the @werewolfinyaris idea. Cheesy, you but very cool.

    Having said that your right about Toyota not understanding social media.

    Bad Toyota.

  3. Great insight. Some companies put priority in return on sales and budget instead of building long term relationships. For car manufacturers, this would seem logical to get a quick buck now because customer loyalty in car brands do not exist nowadays. A buyer of a Toyota Yaris may end up buying a Ford Mustang the next year. It is the car model not the brand that attracts people. The brand gives the sense of security though.

  4. Laurel said: “Unfortunately though, it’s the members of online communities that are the prey, and the hounds have been let loose”

    Do you feel like prey? Really?

    My first reaction, as a consumer, was to see if I could catch a ride home on Saturday with Wolfie.

    1. Yeah I think the agencies on the whole have done well tho Wolfie is the 3rd ‘Jump In My Car’ social networking campaign for Australia that Ive seen this year. Tho come to think of it the user gen ad with no community voting wasn’t brilliantly innovative – do you want kids creating $30,000+ ads for agencies for $7000? this type of comp works only after community has been built.

      I don’t have a problem with ‘stunts’ but I run them at about stage 7 of community building, not stage 1.

  5. It’s incredibly shallow, isn’t it?

    I agree that in standard media, this would be a tasty stand-off for the best idea to win. But in a social space, where, duh, it’s about people (and dare I say, the former audience), where is the desire to meet, talk with and have a longer engagement with more meaningful onflow (such as recommendations, people really liking their Yaris’ and talking about it, etc.).

    Toyota, as you point out, should have done a lot more ground work before jumping in this way. It’s a big, ugly stunt, even if some of the ideas have legs.

    It’s almost the antithesis of what Ford are up to with Fiesta Movement.

  6. What baffles me the most is that Toyota seem to be doing a relatively good job with Facebook & Twitter:


    Sure, their approach is more broadcast than you’d probably like Laurel, but they have built relatively vibrant communities around their brand. So if they wanted more social activity around the Yaris, why not simply create a similar presence for the model (much like Ford does in the US).

    By the way – you’ll probably get a giggle from the Facebook comments for the ‘Werewolf in Yaris’ post on their fan page. Extremely interesting to see how the consumers are perceiving this activity. Bemused seems to sum it up…

    1. I hear you James – and I thought about some of their other campaigns a lot. In particular, were the Fan pages large volumes of people brought in by social ads? Or “true” engagement and what is “true engagement”.

      I quite like some of the ideas that came out of the agencies – nothing startling original but a little tongue in cheek and fun.

      Still, I feel a bit like someone who says “My fave ad on telly is…” AND “I hate ads on telly”. Can we do both? Can we quite like a social media stunt – Werewolf is cute – and yet in general not like the way Toyota went about selling our collective community souls? Did TV sell our souls by giving us pseudo entertaining ads?

      Juries out I guess, but an interesting discussion anyway, here (thankyou!) and on Twitter. 🙂

      1. I think it is possible to appreciate both the stunt approach and the ongoing engagement approach. The trick is to know when each is relevant. For me, the stunt is relevant when the brand is weak or the product is new (artificial buzz needs to be created). The Toyota Yaris fits neither of these scenarios.

        Ironically, that $75K would have gone a long way towards employing a proficient community manager (for a year) to foster ongoing engagement not just around Yaris, but their other vehicles as well.

        Not sure they’ll have a lot to show at the end with the chosen investment of the funds, which is a criticism directed at Toyota rather than the agencies (who are in an almost impossible position to deliver).

  7. That’s appalling of Toyota to do that.. what a shame they really don’t understand the whole point of Social Media, and decided to just cut their budget and run a cut throat contest amongst agencies. A real shame, if you ask me ;(

  8. A lot of interesting discussion here.

    I’m not really a Yaris kind of bloke (lusted after Audi for too long to turn back now), but recently I went for a ride with the Warewolf taxi and was pretty surprised with how myself and 3 others could cram into it.

    As I said, Its not on my shopping list, but I have since rethought my opinion of the little car.

    BTW did anyone else think Rupert Murdoch’s comments over the weekend were a little upside down?

  9. Unfortunately, it seems Toyota can rely on the competitive urge of the agencies involved to get away with this puerile and sadly well-established practice.
    That is, the practice of conducting a beauty parade that wastes an inordinate amount of senior (agency) people’s time, where the reward (money) bears no resemblance to the risk (time spent).
    The industry needs to turn this around, come together and refuse to work on briefs constructed like this.
    I know, and pigs might fly.
    But firing a blunderbuss as Toyota has – asking all and sundry to pitch on a minute budget and insufficient time – only reveals the sad truth truth about the client: that it is incapable of constructing a decent brief and operating with focus.
    Whether by refusing to take on projects like this or by other means (eg creating conversations like this one that SilkCharm’s started), Toyota and anyone else that behaves this way need to feel some pain if practices are going to change.
    And that pain has a name: reputation risk.
    Even if the marketing department puts its own ambitions, arse-covering and self-aggrandizement ahead of reputation, the boss won’t.

  10. Well said Laurel particularly in the face of all the agency abuse you are getting on Mumbrella. The lack of sophistication of this ‘social media’ campaign is embarrassing to say the least. If this was something set up by the Gruen Transfer and critically examined and satirised I would have laughed. Most successful campaigns (and good social media) require humour and if they were prepared to take the piss out of themselves they’d have more success. There’s certainly more of an appetite at the moment for satirical humour around the advertising process so why not approach this brief with real honesty?

  11. Hey Laurel, first you castigate companies for not ‘experimenting’ and then when Toyota only throws $100,000 at a test project you castigate them for doing it wrong……..

    I think it’s cool that Toyota are trying something innovative, and sure i think Yaris cars suck and nothing would make me buy one….. doesn’t mean something cool isn’t going to happen from one of them.

    Personally i love the One Green Bean concept, i think it should be run for more than just one night….maybe something like you find the car via a mobile web app and you get to keep the keys as long as you are driving it, once you “drop the keys” someone else gets to take the car to where they want…..would be a great example of Toyota reliability having the car on the road for 24x7x30 days etc.

    1. Actually dean, I’ve never castigated companies for not experimenting in social media. In fact I have a blog post called “Social media is NOT an experiment”. Certainly the kind of “experiment” where agencies are unleashed on social networks that ignore the very fabric of the community… yuck.

      Nothing they’ve done is innovative. 3rd “jump in my car” in the last 6 months. Trent Reznor did the “drop the USB stick” thing years ago.

      I don’t have a problem with campaigns/stunts/short term events. I don’t even a problem with what the agencies came up with -some ideas were better than others. I do have a problem with Toyota treating communities as bones to be fault over and using it as part of the publicity. And I do have a problem with campaigns that are outside of an overall “social media strategy” – and no, creating a fan page on Facebook, Twitter account and then saying “do stuff so it’s buzzy” is not a strategy.

  12. Short term profit/”move the metal” thinking from both client and agency…I’m glad not only the brand, but also the agencies are exposed. Selfrespect includes a bare minimum of strategic thinking over campaigns that you agree to set-up. Otherwise; just say no 🙂

  13. Laurel,

    Well written post about this abominable video from Toy-oh-what-a-crap-spot-ta.

    Whilst I have major issues with the scenario of a father endorsing his daughter’s deflowering (Toyota doh!), the point must be made that this is NOT a social media experiment. It’s an agency pissing competition, and the Toyota Yaris is the “urinal” upon which the pissing is being done.

    At the end of a year in which the marketing industry has seen Kraft and Westpac battle it out to be the worst PR disaster of 2009, along comes Toyota out the back of the pack to win this ignominious trophy. I suggest if you feel strongly about this issue, then vote for Toyota at

  14. Laurel:

    Great post! Companies are certainly struggling to understand that the ROI from social media isn’t necessarily immediate. This is a prime example.

    Keep up the great work.


    Erik Qualman
    Author of #1 Best Selling Socialnomics

  15. It’s going to take awhile for those traditional spend and measure (immediate) to get used to how things works in a medium (if ever).

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