The Carina E was bland and worthy but it was well- made and terrifically well-specified. The ad worked well - it had attractive, enigmatic girls, a mysterious plot (how does the car keep ending up in front?) and two caricature dumb foreign policemen, so it couldn't fail really. Above all, it announced intent.
But what do you do when all your mainstream volume models are among the dullest, most boring cars on the planet? Make an ad about all your niche models, which are actually rather sexy (2). A triumph of style over substance, 1993's "is it now or is it the future?" ran about twice because it was 90 seconds long, which was about 85 seconds too long for Toyota budgets in those days.
But it did make you think. It started to hint at the latent power of a car company that spends more on product R&D than the big three combined.
They might even have hybrid cars one day ...
At last, a product to get excited about (3). The quirkily named Recreational Active Vehicle (4 wheel drive), RAV4 for short, looked funky and created a brand new segment that we take for granted today. It also gave Saatchis the chance to make this truly wacky, frenetic ad. This was the first car ad to eject two pensioners out of the sunroof because they were deemed inappropriate purchasers. Highly ironic under the circumstances, since Toyota's then older customer base bought the car in their droves because they loved the high driving position and the easy ingress/egress that the car offered.
In 1997, the Carina E made way for the Avensis (6). We need a smug hero with a chiselled jaw to dramatise that the car is so refined and clever that it really can drive itself. And most of all we need the music of Iggy Pop.
Fastforward five years to the new Toyota Corolla and my joint favourite car ad of all time (4) (tying with "changes" for the Golf GTi). "The new Toyota Corolla. A car to be proud of." Saatchis made four launch executions but this one reigns supreme. Nowhere is peer pressure more cruel and intense than in the playground. This ad harnesses that insight and treats us to the cutest little girl hijacking her friend's backseat so her "mum" drives her away from school in a Corolla. The brilliantly delivered "just shut up and drive" sent sales soaring and complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority sky-rocketing. Thankfully the ASA sent the "yours sincerely, no sense of humour from Croydon" brigade packing and the ad ran for a glorious few months on our screens.
Toyotas have got so good that you actively want people to think you own one, even when you don't (5). A wind surfer emerges from the sea and into the car park to see a gorgeous black Corolla T-Sport pull away. Without thinking, he sets off in pursuit, shouting: "That's my car!" I love the way we see all the passersby looking on with concern as we see our hero chasing after "his car" as it pootles down the high street. Things get more complicated when one of them decides to join in the chase. Our hero's deception undone, he turns his attention to another Corolla passing in the opposite direction and he's off again. Confident, funny, mainstream, a brand leader.
Long live the car in front!
- Mike Moran is the managing partner of The Orchard Consultancy and was first the marketing and then the commercial director for Toyota (GB), 1996-2003
1. TOYOTA Title: The car in front Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 1992 2. TOYOTA Title: Is It now or is it the future? Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 1993 3. TOYOTA Title: RAV4 launch Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 1994 4. TOYOTA Title: School Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 2002 5. TOYOTA Title: Stolen car Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 2004 6. TOYOTA Title: Passenger Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Year: 1997