Toyota is renowned for creating brave, entertaining and memorable advertising that resonates with New Zealanders. And it continued that trend last year when it introduced the nation to a car-loving cat called Alloroc, the furry star of the ad that took out the 2013 StopPress/MediaWorks TVC of the Year Award.
- See all the StopPress/MediaWorks TVC of the Year winners here.
Saatchi & Saatchi's creative director Guy Roberts says Toyota "always pushes the envelope and aims to do stuff that cuts through". He says chief executive Alistair Davis is a great believer in that ethos and he was very much part of the process to create the Corolla campaign alongside NeerajLala, general manager – marketing, product planning and used vehicles.
"For us, it was ‘Shit, the benchmark is high. From way back in the day there are ads like Crumpy and Scotty, or iconic ads like Bugger. So we needed to be up there and do some great stuff. There was a bit of pressure.”
When they began thinking about ideas for the campaign, they looked at all the specs and found out what else was in the market. He says it’s a very competitive category and there’s "not a massive difference between the cars", but Toyota had put a lot of emphasis on the interior for this model, so it wanted to find a way to show as much of it as possible, without making it look like every other boring car ad on TV.
“So we thought ‘what’s the one thing that doesn’t like riding in cars?’”
He says a few different scripts were written and two were presented to Toyota. And they chose the one about a cat that was happy to use up a few of its nine lives to get a ride in his owner's new Corolla—but with a caveat that the agency took all possible steps to ensure the cat was handled properly and filmed responsibly.
The SPCA was involved in the process from the start, he says (although they weren't able to publicly endorse it for obvious reasons) and it also worked with renowned "animal wrangler" Caroline Girdlestone, she of Babe fame.
“She’s very, very talented and we pretty much just followed her lead. She was a pleasure to work with and worked really hard. No cats were harmed in the making of this commercial,” he says.
He says there were some additional (and extremely funny, he reckons) scenarios included in the scripts, but the client and the Commercials Approval Bureau pulled the agency back on a few of them. "And I think we landed in a good place and managed to put a few smiles on dials."
There was a vocal minority that criticised the ad on Facebook when it was launched, with some saying it would be stressful for kids to watch and others saying it would promote violence to animals. But Toyota's network of fans stepped in and told the detractors to "look a bit closer" at the ad.
“If you look at the threads on Facebook, they said ‘this is crazy. It’s a charming ad. Look at what else is on TV. You’re overthinking this one.’ They pointed out it was about a cat with nine lives who didn’t use them all up and that the last frame showed him looking quite joyful. It was a nice surprise for us that the community did that.”
He says the Toyota team were big on including the cat with his head out the window and looking very much alive for the last shot (which, unusually for a car ad, hardly even features the car).
"You look at a lot of car advertising and they show a lot of metal. They’re driving on the road. They’re driving through the mud. There are still lots of beautiful shots of the car, but it’s also telling a story, and that’s a hallmark of Toyota.”
He says the three-day shoot with Good Oil director Hamish Rothwell went surprisingly well.
“Hamish is an absolute star and an absolute joy to work with. He’s a good bugger, a good Kiwi lad, and we get on well with him.”
The ad has been viewed almost 1.4 million times on YouTube, some of that from overseas viewers. And as for sales of the car, Roberts says it's "gone gangbusters".
Lala, who is currently in San Franciso as part of Toyota's America's Cup sponsorship, says Corolla maintained its position as the country's top selling car (over 700 Corollas were sold in the first two months after the campaign launched) and it had some good growth over last year. All up, 14,992 new Toyotas were registered in 2012, an increase of 27 percent.
He says it knew the ad had the potential to offend but it engaged with the groups that might find it offensive and "sought their counsel". But its plan was to let its customers decide if the ad was going to be successful or not. And its research showed 92 percent of its customers enjoyed it.
"We do try to create ads that entertain and tell stories to our customers and that's what this ad has achieved. We're here to serve our customers and if we can do that then we've done really well."
Part of its strategy was to use New Zealand's Got Talent as a launch platform for the ad, and this fits in with its attitude to appeal to the grassroots, something it also does through its other sponsorships like provincial rugby, and The Parenting Place.
"That link to the Kiwiana flavour, that's what we try to achieve and it seems to be a successful strategy", he says, pointing out that Toyota was once again voted the most trusted car brand in the recent Readers Digest survey.
So after a swearing dog, a talking chimpanzee and self-destructive cat, what's next? A singing dolphin, perhaps?
"We've had some success with animals. But we've also had plenty of success with people, or using our dealers, or using our sponsorships and partnerships. There's no one way. And they each have their own personality. So we'll just have to wait and see."