Working with the American Advertising Federation, Toyota Division conducted a nationwide advertising contest that attracted hundreds of collegiate entrants. The contest, which ran from the fall semester through the just-ended spring semester, asked students to place themselves in the position of an agency trying to rekindle interest in the Matrix sport wagon.
The winning University of Nevada-Reno campaign - "Your Matrix, Your Story" - proposed several TV spot ideas and print ads so skillful that Toyota is considering using them in its corporate advertising campaign.
The theme focused on the idea of young buyers cherishing early memories through pictures.
Deborah Wahl Meyer, Toyota corporate manager of marketing communications, says the Nevada-Reno entry clearly defined the youth market that would buy the Matrix, and linked their psychographics - a group's shared beliefs and thought processes - to the Matrix.
Market research by the students showed that Generation Y places a high value on recorded memories such as photos, so they used snapshots as the main artwork for the print ad campaign. One example: pictures of a group of girls joyfully eating Chinese food in a Matrix. Some ideas went too far for Toyota to use in its real-world ads but still provided valuable insight into the younger generation, Wahl Meyer says.
One ad, entitled "Make out," played up the car's all-wheel drive by showing an interracial couple (or gay couple, in another version) embracing at the edge of a lake.
Another had a snapshot of a young man displaying his bare buttocks across the back window of the Matrix. Entrants also informed Toyota executives about many things the automaker didn't know. One finding: Many people don't know that Toyota builds the Matrix.
Several entries also tried marketing tactics that had not occurred to Toyota. For example, a "pop-up killer" for the Internet would have an animated Matrix push irritating pop-up ads off the screen.
Another idea was to have a "musical Matrix" for auto show displays, where different parts of the car make different sounds.
The campaign also included a reality TV scavenger hunt for a Matrix, as well as philanthropic connections with world hunger groups and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"The students did sophisticated research, lots of Internet surveys, focus groups and mystery shopping," Wahl Meyer says. "We're trying to find things that are actionable."
What's more, Toyota learned an interesting lesson about Generation Y, she says.
"The students were hard workers. They were far from the common portrayal as slackers, and they were very conservative," Wahl Meyer says."