In 2014, Toyota was ranked “the most valuable automotive brand worldwide for the 11th straight year in Interbrand’s new ranking of the 100 Best Global Brands” (Buss, 2014). As a leading global brand, Toyota keeps its brand image and promotion as a top priority, spending a reported $US2.09 billion on advertising alone (Taube, 2014). Traditionally, the Toyota brand was perceived as sturdy, reliable and practical, however, on the verge of the release of the Matrix in 2002, Toyota sought to alter the consumer perception of the brand (Institute of Communication Agencies, 2003). Jez Frampton, global CEO of Interbrand, said that automakers have realised the need to “build strong brands for the future” and “reposition themselves in slightly different ways” (Buss, 2014) in order to survive the demands of the changing consumer. In response, Toyota utilised product placement as a platform for repositioning their brand, and removing connotations of ‘just practicality’ from Toyota products.
Chang et al (2009) identify three types of product placement processes; Serendipitous, Opportunistic and Planned product placement. Planned product placements are those that occur due to an agreement between an entertainment or production company and a product or service brand. In 2001, Toyota engaged in an agreement with Vivendi Universal to be the official car of Universal Studios in order to maximise their now Planned product placement opportunities in repositioning Toyota brand perceptions.
For example, Toyota cars were largely seen in The Fast and the Furious (2001) and its sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), both very successful films (Dickenson, 2006). The hero of the Toyota representatives was the Toyota Supra, which appeared in a drag race scene in the first film. Wasko (2003) identifies three techniques for product placement being visual, spoken and usage. Turcotte (as cited in Wasko, 2003, p. 155) indicates that when the usage technique is employed, often visual and spoken techniques are also incorporated, which is true for Toyota this example. The Supra is driven by two of the leading characters who race against a Ferrari in an epic and illegal street racing scene, and ultimately win in modest style (Khan, 2010). Visual placement is used as the Toyota brand can be observed; spoken placement occurs as the characters identify the car they are driving; and usage placement occurs as the Toyota car is directly and obviously used as a prop.
It is likely that Toyota engaged in the deal with Vivendi Universal, and sought to appoint one of their products as the star of an action packed speed racing film, in order to effectively contemporise their brand image. This product placement sought to appeal to the younger consumer by rejecting associations of sturdy practicality and “allow consumers to see the “fun and dynamic” side of Toyota” (Adweek, 2001).
As a result of Toyota’s efforts to redefine the brand image, in 2002, Matrix sales beat the forecasts by 22%, as well as being “second in segment sales with 23.4% share of market” (Institute of Communication Agencies, 2003). In summary, Toyota utilised the agreement as an experiment with non-traditional advertising where the outcomes were advantageous for both Toyota and Vivendi Universal.
Adweek. (2001, July 31). Universal, Toyota Join Forces. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from Adweek: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/universal-toyota-join-forces-51103
Buss, D. (2014, October 16). Toyota Leads ‘Best Global Brands,’ But Audi, VW, Nissan Rise Most. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dalebuss/2014/10/16/toyota-leads-best-global-brands-but-audi-vw-nissan-rise-most/
Chang, S., Newell, J., & Salmon, C. T. (2009). Product placement in entertainment media. International Journal of Advertising, 28 (5), pp. 783-806.
Dickenson, B. (2006). Hollywood’s New Radicalism. London: I.B.Tauris.
Institute of Communication Agencies. (2003). Toyota Matrix. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from Warc: http://www.warc.com/Content/Documents/A79204_Toyota_Matrix.content?PUB=CCA&CID=A79204&ID=d4bbd9ef-473b-4575-ae9e-32033fec5363&q=&qr=
Khan, A. (2010). The Fast and the Furious(2001) Ferrari vs Toyota Supra DRAG RACE [Video File]. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYSYEuRPR4Q
Taube, A. (2014, June 26). The 12 Companies That Spend The Most On Advertising. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from Business Insider Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/12-biggest-advertising-spenders-in-2013-2014-6#toyota-spent-209-billion-on-ads-4
Wasko, J. (2003). How Hollywood Works. London: SAGE Publications Inc.
Wikia. (n.d). Toyota Supra. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from Wikia – The Fast and the Furious: http://fastandfurious.wikia.com/wiki/Toyota_Supra