The rise of social media has given humans an opportunity to communicate directly with brands. That seems to have led to more gimme gimme gimme than positive endorsement, but Toyota has decided the risk is worth it and is soliciting questions from New Zealanders and attempting to answer them in an entertaining fashion as part of its Armchair Test Drive campaign.
Akin to McDonald's recent Our Food, Your Questions initiative or Old Spice's Twitter campaign, and an extension of Toyota's Our First Home sponsorship, the campaign asks New Zealanders to post a question about a Toyota on its Facebook wall. Selected questions then get answered in video, image or text form as quickly as possible. And Proximity and Toyota's content company Media Blanco (Fish director Greg Page is one of the presenters and he seems to have consumed a whole heap of illicit substances for the intro video above) have done a whole heap of them so far.
Asking the public for suggestions, relying on human decency and running campaigns with voting mechanisms or hashtags can occasionally go awry at the hands of online mischief makers, as Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola,McDonald's, Qantas and many other brands have found. And, looking at the Facebook pages of any major brand does sometimes make you wonder why they would even bother, such is the vitriol often on display. But despite the threat of public shaming—or perhaps because of it—social media has proven itself to be an effective customer service tool and, occasionally, a great engagement tool, so Toyota has dealt with the mischief makers by having a bit of fun with some of the answers (such as how many hay standard bales can you fit on a Hilux?, will your smallest car fit inside your biggest?, which model Toyota would be best for the action thriller suspense film I'm making?, if a male and a female were to become acquainted in the back of a Hilux, what the level of comfort be like?, and many others).
As the car buying process generally begins online these days, long before anyone ventures into a dealer, this content-led approach also gives Toyota an excuse to talk about its range of different models and shoehorn some of their features into the answers, as it does in the can a Prius do donuts? segment. So it's certainly better than a brochure.
'Join the conversation' has become something of a marketing cliche in recent years. And, as Wieden + Kennedy's Martin Wiegel wrote, it's fairly ridiculous for brands to assume anyone wants to talk to them given all the things they have going on in their lives (the low engagement rates on Facebook seem to attest to that). But it can be done if there's enough of an incentive to participate, like the Give it a V campaign, and as the reward of acknowledgement is one of the most appealing aspects of social media, submitting a question and having it answered is no doubt a bit of a thrill.