Jack Hollis headed Scion for nearly five years, a period of slow product activity for Toyota's youth brand that posed a marketing challenge.
Two months ago, Hollis was named vice president in charge of Toyota brand marketing. But managing Toyota's marketing in an increasingly competitive market is hardly a plug-and-play task.
In an interview with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin, Hollis, 45, talked about the lessons he learned at Scion and how he might apply them to Toyota.
Q: Toyota's marketing -- which focuses on durability, quality and reliability -- has been called bland. Do you plan to change it?
A: Those attributes are our hallmark, and how we built our brand over 40 or 50 years. As a brand, it's what people want: high quality for a great value. We don't want to go away from that. The last three or four years, things happened that we don't have control over. That made us look at who we are. We are looking more at fun-to-drive and style. We are expanding what our brand is about.
What lessons do you bring from your experience at Scion?
From a communications standpoint, the idea of building relationships one by one means more face-to-face with consumers. The engagement area of Toyota marketing will grow. I believe everybody in the world is saying, "Go digital." But how do you go into it and build it more personally?
How will you market the Camry with all the mid-sized competition arriving?
We do it creatively. We are using "The Camry Effect," about people having a relationship with their cars, their testimonials about their new car. We have exceeded our expectations of people wanting to share their stories. Utilizing people who love their car is better than any advertising.
How much does Toyota need to spend this year, given competitors' huge launch campaigns?
From a financial side, our competitors have to spend because they are coming from behind. We won't spend the same amount in year two as in year one. But can you spend more efficiently and creatively? We will build on our relationships in the digital space. Our competitors are all going to be screaming at the same time. But Camry is the cross-shop.
Is Toyota's investment in Facebook advertising worthwhile?
The return on investment can't always be the only metric you are going to use for the value of something. Our ROI with Facebook is adequate. But that's not the decision-making point. It's where and how you put your brand out. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter -- all those things are worthy of our investment.
Would Toyota ever go all-in on the Olympics, like Chevrolet and BMW?
When you are playing that commercial so many times, at what time do the economies of scale start working against you? The Olympics and Super Bowls have tactical opportunities in marketing. You have to see what is best for messaging. Things like the Super Bowl, World Series, March Madness, that's integral to a large brand.
Chevrolet spent nearly a half-billion dollars sponsoring the Manchester United soccer team. Would Toyota do the same for the Lakers?
There is no question we would have to listen to that, aligning a championship team with another championship team. We're not actively pursuing it. It's not critical to our success, and it's not on our radar. But if Lakers or Yankees came forward, we would have to listen. But we look at the regions of country, and we have sponsorships already with Staples Center, Wrigley Field, Toyota Center [in Houston], the New York Giants and Jets. It's not about sports, but what kind of partnerships we can be building.
How many consumers still mention Toyota's recall crisis?
Very, very few. Almost every single [research] category shows we are back to pre-recession and pre-recall levels. The plus or minus is so close that it's not statistically significant.
Does the strong yen affect pricing and incentives?
From a budget standpoint, it is not having an effect, positive or negative. My own goal is to be the No. 1 retail manufacturer. Whatever budget is needed to pursue that, the company will allow us to have.
How does Toyota approach diversity marketing?
This is a sweet spot for me. We are No. 1 in each minority market. But that's just a starting point. The population growth is so significant, it is becoming the general market. I don't really like or accept the idea of the diversity market and general market. It's one market. Being authentic to the car and what it emotes or evokes to an individual is the most important thing. The emotional connection is to people, and it doesn't matter their color or age. Sure, there are triggers and mind-sets, but we have to do the best job of building relationships with men and women and give them the best experience in the car.
We are spending even more with our diversity agencies. But now we have all our marketing partners in one room, so it's not broken out by segment or ethnicity.
There is more collaboration as a group, so everyone understands the wants and needs of these cultures. I want to redefine how Toyota looks at this.