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Video: Toyota’s McCullough Driven to Succeed

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

When Toyota introduced its redesigned Toyota Tundra (“The Truck That’s Changing It All”) on Feb. 4, 2007, Kim McCullough, Toyota’s corporate manager for communications, had some pretty high expectations for sales. The company hoped to make a respectable dent in the domestic market by enlisting the help of Toyota dealerships—from sales staff to technicians to receptionists—as well as marketing heavily to the Hispanic community and reaching out to other nontraditional Toyota markets.

Turns out Toyota’s expectations were a little low.
Ms. McCullough, TelevisionWeek’s Automotive Marketer of the Year, saw sales of the Tundra overtake the mighty Dodge Ram truck by May 2007, reaching third place in an explosively competitive market, behind only the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado.
The process, she said, was bolstered by Saatchi & Saatchi’s ad campaign, multicultural agency Conill’s approach to the Hispanic market and the wildly successful strategy of taking the truck to the people.
The marketing campaign, rumored to have cost in the neighborhood of $100 million—triple the amount Toyota spent on previous Tundra marketing—opened with two 30-second spots during Super Bowl XLI. It also included promotional tie-ins with NASCAR and Bassmaster.
In 2007 Toyota put about half of its Tundra advertising budget toward nontraditional marketing areas populated by people who were already driving Fords and Chevys: fishing and hunting enthusiasts, NASCAR fans, country music and sports fans and the construction industry.
Recognizing that brand loyalty is paramount to American truckers, the upstart Tundra set out not to be No. 1 in a marketplace ruled by icons, but simply to carve out a niche in the domestic market.
Ms. McCullough said the focus has not changed as the campaign continues through 2008. She added that although “the engagement market” was instrumental in giving people “firsthand experience with the full-size trucks,” it was the broadcast media that kick-started the campaign. “We had to let people know about it first,” she said, “starting with the Super Bowl.”
Tying in with those ads, she said, the Tundra Web site provided a behind-the-scenes look at how the commercials were filmed. “We built a ramp and seesaw [for the commercials], and people could see that this wasn’t computer-generated,” she said. “In the beginning there was some healthy skepticism, but people could see this was the real deal.”
The next step was getting the buyers to the dealerships. “When you’re dealing with a truck audience,” Ms. McCullough said, “they understand what they need in a truck. So we had to make sure the dealers came through. When someone comes in and they want to know the payload and towing capabilities, we want dealers to be able to answer those questions. We’ve given the dealerships extra training to make sure they are very, very knowledgeable.”
After two failures in the full-size pickup market, Toyota had something to prove. 1993’s T100 made some truckers scoff, and the earlier-model Tundra, launched in 2000, was smaller and less powerful than its American counterparts. With the 2007 base model priced $1,500 higher than its domestic competition, it looked as though Toyota might have bitten off more than a pickup truck could chew.
Ms. McCullough said Toyota has made significant inroads with the “taking it to the people” concept. “The Ride & Drive tour [a nationwide initiative in which Tundras were made available for customers to experience firsthand], which we do at Bass Pro Shops and lumber shops—that made a huge difference,” she said. “Those events get set up with dealers to make it relevant with the local community.”
Tundra has continued “with the core elements” of its agreement with Bass Pro Shops and BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society). The NASCAR commitment also is pushing forward, Ms. McCullough said. “We won [our first Sprint Cup race] this year,” she said, “so it’s a very good year in the Cup … and Tundra’s helping us there.”
Cross-platforming has been instrumental to the campaign’s success, she said, noting that the various platforms “reinforce each other. Each element changes for that environment. If you go to a Bass Pro Shop for the Ride & Drive and want to find out more about the Tundra, you could go to the Web site.”
That site, she said, has a series of videos that “demonstrate different parts of the trucks” and also provide a how-to lesson.
“If you wanted to hitch a boat to your vehicle,” she said, “there’s a video to show you how it works.”
But nothing, she said, has been more instrumental for Tundra sales than the local dealerships.
“We’ve learned how important it is to work closely [with the dealers] to enable them to bring in the local community,” Ms. McCullough said. “They’re our voice to the customer.”
Toyota also tossed a fair chunk of change toward advertising at local events aimed specifically at Hispanic buyers, such as soccer games, concerts and rodeos.
Sales of the 2007 Tundra to Hispanics reached 2,184, according to figures released by Conill, and the 2008 model has hit 3,353 to date. That’s 14% of total sales (16% in ’08) for the full-size pickup and 54% growth in Hispanic market share. No other full-size pickup showed gains in Hispanic growth for 2007-08.
The Hispanic market, long overlooked by foreign car makers, was instrumental in moving Toyota up through the ranks, and Ms. McCullough said Toyota worked closely with Conill to develop commercials geared to that market.
“We felt it was critical to the success of the full-size pickups,” she said, noting the Spanish-language ads, both broadcast and online, were completely different entities from their English-language counterparts. “It’s not just the same commercial running in Spanish,” she said.
Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Director Chuck Maguy, who worked with Creative Director Erich Funke to oversee the Tundra campaign, said Conill “proved themselves to the Hispanic target.” Taking the trucks to consumer events aimed at Hispanics, he said, let potential buyers “see, touch and explore the vehicle.”
It’s also been a good Ride & Drive tour for Ms. McCullough, who joined Toyota in June 2005 after having spent more than 20 years in automotive brand development. In addition to the Tundra campaign, she’s responsible for managing interactive marketing and advertising for Toyota’s 18 car models.

One Comment

  1. Dear Editors: Please kindly verify your data regarding Toyota’s sales volume. Toyota Tundra did NOT move into third-place among full-size light duty pickup trucks in May of 2007. In fact, total CY2007 Toyota Tundra sales did not exceed CY2007 Ram 1500 sales according to R.L. Polk data, the industry leader for this information.

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