Lincoln Merrihew, senior vice president for Millward Brown Digital, said the re-engineered Camry seems to be resonating in terms of consumer interest. The in-market shopper number, a count of those actively researching new Camrys, was 121,000 for September, the highest it has been since May 2008, when it was 146,000, and up from 103,000 in August.
"The lift we've already seen is a great positive for Camry," he said. "So far the sales potential is very solid."
But that hardly means the image makeover is a success. Buzz about the ads surrounding the new Camry has been conspicuously absent in social media, said Beth Desautels, vice president of North America for Kantar Media News Intelligence. The company tracked the use of words such as "cool," "young" and "bold" in reference to the Camry since July "and we haven't really seen anything," she said. "There's been no uptick," especially compared with the reaction to the Lincoln ads starring Matthew McConaughey.
Toyota has other initiatives under way to expose younger customers to the Camry name. It's sponsoring the Monster Energy Cup, a supercross race held in Las Vegas, and spotlighting the 2015 Camry in promotions during the 2015 supercross season.
It's also hoping to attract a youthful market by creating a six-episode YouTube series related to YouTube influencers, people who have a broad following on the video site. The influencers will take the Camry on spins and experience it in different settings, videotaping their trips and posting it to their channels.
Camry also has partnered with Oprah Winfrey's "The Life You Want Weekend" tour, an eight-city arena tour wrapping up this week that includes an onstage segment, "Toyota Standing O-vation," that recognizes people "living bold lives."
Image makeovers are tough in the auto industry, but not unprecedented. Volvo was known for making safe-but-boxy vehicles, and tried to change that through more flowing design. Buick is using humorous ads to both acknowledge and change its reputation for stodgy vehicles that appeal to old people, Libby said.
Baumann pointed out that it took Hyundai almost 10 years to change the perception to a company that manufactures stylish, high-quality vehicles.
Camry's transformation won't be done quickly, Libby said, and it needs to extend across Toyota's product portfolio.
He said, "The blandness goes beyond Camry."