Hybrid’s Ad Deals in High Gear

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Marc Graser

Advertising Age

Fans of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” mourned the end of the mortuary drama’s five-season run last month. But you won’t be seeing Toyota executives shedding any tears over the finale.

If you do, they might be tears of joy.

All you have to do is take a look at the series’ final six minutes. During a sentimental montage that envisions what ultimately happens to each of the show’s lead characters, one of them is shown driving off down a desert highway behind the wheel of a Prius.

For Toyota it’s the latest example of Hollywood’s love affair with the marque. Since its introduction in 1997 the gas/electric hybrid vehicle has been adopted by environmentally friendly celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. It’s been written into the plots of shows such as “The West Wing.” Larry David drives one on HBO’s comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It’s also served as an “alternative limo” at the Academy Awards.

The car will soon appear in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom “Old Christine” on CBS, the Fox legal comedy “Head Cases” and the feature romantic comedy “The Last Kiss” from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures.

It’s not as though Prius really needs the extra exposure to boost sales. The car has quickly become Toyota’s third-best-selling model, behind the Camry and the Corolla, with customers often waiting months to receive their vehicles. As more car buyers are steering toward hybrid vehicles, Toyota is hoping to use entertainment to promote its lineup of hybrid cars and trucks. Rivals such as Ford and Honda have hybrid editions: the Ford Escape SUV and Honda Civic sedans.

But because of its unique design, Prius has become the poster child for hybrids. “The Prius is such a visually distinctive car,” said Rob Donnell, CEO of Brand Arc, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based branded-entertainment shop that reps Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus. “It makes a statement. And it makes it better than any other vehicle out there.”

The show appealed to Prius’ target demographic: people who are influencers and trendsetters who adapt to new ideas and new ways of thinking. “That show hits the Prius demographic better than most on network TV,” he said.

Mark Simmons, national manager of advertising strategy and media for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said that “On a 1 to 10 scale, [the placement] was a 10.”