Toyotathon began redefining the end of the automotive sales and marketing year nearly four decades ago, when the Japanese brand, then still an upstart, tried to goose sales during a Christmas season that traditionally had been one of the sleepiest times of the year in the US auto market.
Now, back for its 39th year, Toyotathon is showcasing a holiday spot, “Home for the Holidays,” that presents the heartwarming homecoming of a US military service member. It premiered during NBC’s primetime Christmas at Rockefeller Center special last month and will be appearing throughout December.
“The holidays are a time to reflect on the true meaning of the season and the importance of friends and family,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota marketing for the company in North America.
The brand also just announced that it will participate in Big Game advertising for Super Bowl LIII on February 3, highlighting its bread-and-butter RAV4 utility vehicle, a new version of which Toyota will launch in 2019.
brandchannel spoke with Laukes about Toyotathon, how it’s changed, and Toyota’s marketing priorities these days.
Tell me about the history of Toyotathon.
This is our 39th year. I’ve been with the company for 30 years. It’s a great time to finish our sell-down and in many cases we have new models in the showrooms. And we allow consumers to spoil themselves with a fantastic deal at the end of the year.
How has the industry’s intense year-end sales activity changed the approach you take?
Three years ago we modified our approach. Now we have three phases. The first phase runs around Thanksgiving, typical of more of a month-end approach. Then we take a break between the end of November and Christmas. The current campaign is our way of giving everybody a bit of a break from what you’d consider traditional end-of-the-year advertising and offers a chance to reflect on other things that are important during the holiday season.
We’re getting better every year with the work we’re doing and reactions from dealers. We get a huge social media response from existing customers as well as people who are interested. And it has hit home: “Thanks for giving us something important to think of during the holiday season.”
First year it was “Bright Lights, ” about a woman in the military coming home, and the family used the vehicles to make a Welcome Home message so she could see it on approach from the window of her airplane. And last year, with “R&S,” we got a strong emotional bond with regard to families, about a tree that a young couple had carved their initials into. When their kids cut the tree down they made it into a table and you could see the letters “R&S,” They invited Mom and Dad over. It was very powerful.
So this year, why back to the military theme?
As a company, we provide a massive amount of support and do a lot with military members who are coming home via Hiring a Hero. This is really about a dad or a mom who’s away from their child for whatever reason, and they’re coming home. This year’s spot is about the spirit of military family members coming home.
How have your marketing sensibilities changed since you relocated from Southern California to Dallas, where Toyota North America is now headquartered?
No change. We started to have conversations about breaking up the monotony of sales event advertising long before we left California. Toyotathon is still about selling cars and trucks.
Do you have particular needs for the end of this year given the overall industry sales stagnation or the challenge for sedans, for example?
Not really. We’re actually in a really good position for our model mix. We’re selling the new RAV4 in the first of the year. Then we’re going to launch a new version of Corolla and then the new Supra. So we’ve got a good cadence of new products in 2019.
Supra is an emotional vehicle that consumers rally around, sort of like the pony cars for domestic automakers. We’ll be unveiling it at the Detroit Auto Show [in January].
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