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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 13:10 GMT
Toyota finds the key
Magazine's review of advertising

Corolla ad
The party is in full swing
THE PRODUCT: Toyota Corolla

THE BRIEF: Continue the "car to be proud of" theme, showing the lengths people will go to claim a Toyota Corolla belongs to them


THE SCRIPT: A group of 30-something couples are sitting on opposite sides of a coffee table. A woman searches through a fruit bowl of car keys as the men look on expectantly. She makes her selection and walks off arm-in-arm with the man who owns the set of keys. When an overweight woman stands up to make her selection the men look nervous. But when she picks a Corolla key they all stand up to claim ownership of the car.


"Ambassador, with these Rocher you are really spoiling us".

"The French adore Le Piat D'Or".

"Hey, I'd love a Babycham".

History is littered with embarrassing attempts to make workaday products appear more cool and sophisticated.

Toyota ad
The fellas are ready

But that has not prevented Toyota from spending a hefty 20m on re-launching the boring old Corolla, with most of that going on advertising. Sales are up nearly 50%.

The brief was to turn the Corolla from an icon of solid Japanese engineering into something a little bit more desirable. A "car to be proud of".

The campaign is aimed at educated and confident 30-somethings, who like to have an emotional connection with their motors.


Some of the other ads in the series, such as the one where a man whips out a megaphone in a restaurant, are a bit heavy-handed.

Toyota ad
But what's this?
But this gets it just about right. It is a subtle, nicely-turned script, playing on the suburban mythology of the "swingers party", immortalised in Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm.

The ad caused a minor storm of its own when it first broke last year for being "fattist". Despite attracting 236 complaints from viewers it escaped a ban. Its use of humour, the ITC ruled, mitigated any potential offence.

It is knowing without being too smug or exclusive. It relies on the viewer recognising the concept of the "key party" and being in on the joke - ruling out the more gauche elements in the audience at a stroke.

Innocent mistake

A friend - let's call him Kieran - tells of how, some years ago when he was a nave young fresher and tasting life in the big city for the first time, was eager to impress a new girlfriend. He took her to a dinner party hosted by some older friends.

The pay-off
As the drink flowed, the subject was raised of a "car key party". Kieran didn't quite know what was meant by this, but rather liked the sound of it. Not that he was in any way wishing to exchange his beautiful girlfriend. But he was a bit of a petrol head.

"I perfectly innocently said: 'That sounds fantastic!' The other people round the table gave me a strange look. I asked: 'So are you really saying that you could turn up with a Toyota Corolla and go home with a BMW?' They burst into fits of laughter and said: 'You might, if you're lucky.'

"One of the people there knew my girlfriend's older sister, and took great pleasure in asking her who was this new boyfriend who was comparing her sister to a Toyota.

"Honestly, we hadn't a clue what was going on. But to be honest I didn't know anyone at the time who had a nice enough car that you would have wanted to swap with."

It worked out for Kieran - he both married his girlfriend and, happily enough for the team behind this particular advertisement, bought a Toyota Corolla.

  • The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says its anti-smoking campaign, graphically demonstrating the effects of cigarettes on smokers' arteries, featured a few weeks ago in Ad Breakdown, is its most effective yet, with 10,000 people calling a special helpline.

    Compiled by Brian Wheeler

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