Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toyota Highlander's Marketing Campaign Insults its Own Audience

Hey! I know, it's been a while. Sorry about that. We all get busy. Something has come up over the past couple of weeks, however, that enraged me enough to come out of hiding. Who's responsible: a car company named Toyota and a little boy name Nathan.

I am referring to the latest marketing campaign for the 2010 Toyota Highlander, which features a snot-nosed kid named Nathan James. This is how Toyota describes Nathan in a press release:

The commercials feature Nathan James, an eight-year-old boy on a mission to “un-dork” his parents. A purveyor of cool, Nathan uses the 2011 Highlander to demonstrate how not to be lame. He has tips and tricks for dealing with not-so-hip parents

There is nothing appealing about young Nathan. He's elitist, superficial, smug, and already has a sense of self-entitlement. He is embarrassed by anybody that isn't as cool as him. His (and Toyota's) "cute" catch phrase is, “Just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean you have to be lame.” Take a look at one of the several Nathan James ads currently running:

That is supposed to convince you to buy a Highlander. I can't place all the blame on Nathan, however. After all, he's not real. Toyota, however, should be smarter. They still need to be regaining consumer trust after all their recalls, and how do they decide to do it? By insulting the very parents that will buy their cars.

This would be a good campaign if kids bought cars. Since they don't, the "parents just don't get it" tag that works for Apple Jacks cereal, doesn't quite work here. I haven't bought a car in a while, but I am pretty sure that on the Consumer Reports list of what a person looks for when deciding on a car purchase, whether or not their kid thinks it's cool enough doesn't even register. However, this is the selling point mentioned in Toyota's own press release announcing the campaign:

The fully integrated Highlander marketing campaign is aimed at parents with kids ages seven to twelve. During those early child-rearing years, these parents were preoccupied with the needs of their children. They were focused on functionality first, style second—after all, it’s difficult to fit a baby stroller in a sports car. Now their kids are a little older and a little more independent. They’re easily embarrassed, especially by their parents. The last thing they want is to be picked up from school in the old family hauler.

In the several Nathan ads running on TV and on Toyota's branded YouTube channel, safety is barely mentioned. Smart move, Toyota. If you want to get back in the public's good graces, smugly making fun of us is not the way to do it. Make us laugh, don't laugh at us and expect us to do the same. Any self-respecting parent should be insulted that Toyota thinks they are vapid enough consumers to be convinced by these ads.

I sympathise more with Billy and his dad in the above ad. I don't know their full story, but I am sure Billy's dad would love to drop 50K on a loaded Highlander, but he has a family to support, a daughter about to go to college, and a small business that isn't doing so well. Billy might be embarrassed slightly by dad's car, but he will learn in time that a parent makes financial sacrifices for their family. At least he has a dad who is there enough to pick him up after school. Maybe Billy wouldn't be so embarrassed if kids like Nathan weren't picking on him so much because of his dad's car.

OK, I'm ranting now. Am I alone here? I couldn't find many people online complaining. What do you think. Need more fuel? Check out this other Nathan James ad:

1 comment:

jjw said...

I fully agree with you on this. I would be embarrassed to buy a Highlander BECAUSE of these ridiculous ads; I would not want anyone to think that I condone a self-righteous, snotty kid with a sense of entitlement that NO ONE ON EARTH should have.
I am suprised more people haven't commented on these ads/surprised the ads are still on - I figured at least if people weren't going to openly bash the ads, that at least the disgust they should have with the ads would shake out in poor Highlander sales and then maybe Toyota would stop showing these ads. Doesn't appear to be the case because I just saw another ad this morning. Personally, my husband and kids and I would be in the "other" car, but we'd all be happily singing together... geeks of a feather.
The kind of behavior Nathan shows is exactly the behavior we need to be curtailing in our kids. It's bad enough there are parents out there who will actually let their kids watch a DVD on the way to the grocery store.. do we have to roll with it as a society? Gosh, I hope not.
Used Odyssey Driver with a DVD player in it that my kids have yet to watch.