A recent marketing campaign for the Toyota Camry seeks to disrupt and challenge conventional ideas, both in general and for specific segments of consumers. By creating several distinct advertisements to appeal to different demographic groups, but retaining some consistent elements across all the ads, Toyota aims to establish a new view of the mainstream market that is respectful and transcultural.

The consistent elements in the Camry advertisements include scenes that signal that driving the sedan—long perceived as a safe and reliable and thus not particularly thrilling vehicle option—is actually deeply exciting. The spots all feature images of the drivers clicking a “sport” button, followed by firing pistons, and then video of the cars accelerating quickly and taking corners tightly. The featured cars are bright red in color, offering a sense of excitement and thrill.

But that’s what is similar across the advertisements. Perhaps even more notable is what differs in the series. Each advertisement stars actors of different races, signaling Toyota’s attempt to ensure representativeness and confirm that consumers see someone who looks like them on screen. Moving beyond simple token appearances though, the commercials also seek to upend stereotypes, in line with the idea of challenging conventional ideas about what the Camry is.

The advertisement featuring an Asian American family, for example, shows a father picking up his daughter from baseball practice. She begins the ride glued to her tablet, but once he starts the music playing and hits the button to choose the sport option, she looks up with joy, prompting an unspoken but affectionate link between them. With these images, Toyota sought to contest the widespread stereotype that Asian fathers tend to be less demonstrative or involved, and it reiterates the participation of minority families in popular American pastimes such as baseball.

The commercial that appears on Spanish-language channels instead features a single man, driving happily in the sport setting, when the dashboard lights up to show that his mother is calling. When he declines the call, the narrative is playing with the common idea that Hispanic children are totally devoted to their parents. With this humorous challenge to this stereotype, Toyota also can highlight just how exciting it is to drive the Camry—so exciting that a Hispanic man voluntarily avoids his mother.

For African American audiences, the male actor featured again gets into his bright red car, speeding through streets to the tunes of John Cena’s recording “Strut.” Although these signals imply a sense of showing off, his goal is to pick up a pizza, which he presumably is about to bring back to his beautiful home for his family. The man might have moved to the suburbs, the advertisement implies, but by driving the Camry (in sport mode, of course), he can still strut his hip style.

Finally, an advertisement with three separate, parallel stories of people so excited by their driving experiences that they ignore their responsibilities (i.e., to a child waiting at school to be picked up, to a date, and to a business colleague waiting to start a meeting) features people of different and sometimes indeterminate races. Emphasizing the similarities in their behaviors, Toyota embraces a notion that the company calls the “transcultural mainstream,” such that a mainstream market no longer implies a problematic focus on white consumers as somehow normative.

Rather, Toyota wants to challenge lots of stereotypes—not merely that its cars are boring, but also that society is made up of any single or heterogeneous consumer group.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is Toyota targeting specific ethnic markets?
  2. How does it define the mainstream market, and what implications does its unique definition have for its marketing?

Source: Sapna Maheshwari, “Different Ads, Different Ethnicities, Same Car,” The New York Times, October 12, 2017