The vehicles change, and the market gyrates. But two strategic themes underpin decades of Toyota advertising:
1. Equate Toyota with quality.
2. Create a visceral connection between the company and the car buyer.
A six-year campaign that began in 1979 is a prime example. Its tag line — "Oh, what a feeling!"— became part of the American lexicon.
And beyond the words, there was the jump.
The defining moment in every TV commercial was a slow-motion jump of joy, a jump of celebration for knowing firsthand how good it felt to be a Toyota owner.
" 'Oh, what a feeling!' is one of the most well-known campaigns" in advertising, says Steve Sturm, a veteran Toyota executive and former Toyota Division vice president of marketing.
The tag line still surfaces as a signature theme in Toyota's brand research, says Sturm, 56, who is group vice president of Americas strategic research and planning and corporate communications.
Says George Cinfo, 71, an advertising agency executive and a creative force in Toyota advertising for two decades: "The jump became the symbol for Toyota's quality and satisfaction. What made the jump work was that it was slow-motion. That was what gave it the emotion. The jump embodied Toyota's philosophy."
The message, says Cinfo, was person-to-person, not from a company giving lectures about how good its products were. "There was a connection between the consumer and the vehicle," Cinfo says. The advertising message "was always coming from the consumer, not a corporate voice. That was key."
Cinfo worked for Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in New York as creative director and stayed on when the agency was acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1986. He retired in 1999 as vice chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles.
Stuart Upson, now 82, was CEO of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample when the agency won the Toyota account in late 1974. "We had a great belief that your car is part of your life, so you need people to react to it, touch it and comment about it," says Upson.
Dancer Fitzgerald Sample's first campaign, launched in January 1976, had some staying power in the minds of consumers, too. The tag line: "You asked for it. You got it!"