How Saatchi & Saatchi’s Toyota social media disaster unfolded

Toyota’s now disastrous foray into social media offers a demonstration of what skills an agency needs to play in that space.  

It’s now obvious that PR expertise is not an optional extra that ad agencies having a bit of a dabble in social media can do without. Although advertising has always had the potential to be controversial, for social media that possibility grows exponentially and that risk needs to be controlled.

And as Saatchi & Saatchi has demonstrated, it now goes without saying that you actually need to understand social media before you start. You can’t start learning on the client’s time.

For Toyota, I still think that running a live social media pitch with the five competing campaigns was a good thing. Even without this week’s events, it will have learned a lot. And by doing it in the public arena, the entire marketing industry got to learn too.

Where it went wrong was in giving too much leeway to an agency with little apparent social media experience and seemingly too little risk control to accompany that.

As an aside, it was interesting to note that another agency on the shortlist was Oddfellows, a long term partner of Toyota. A traditionally based agency, Oddfellows didn’t have the hubris to claim to be able to understand social media on its own. It partnered with social media agency The Population.

Saatchi & Saatchi apparently decided it could fly solo. Rather like many media planners think they’d make a good creative, I wonder if Saatchis thought social media was easier than it was.

It began to go wrong for Saatchis very early in the process. For starters, a film competition is such a tired idea. There was no twist. The brief was simply: make a film featuring a Yaris, and win a relatively small amount of money.

The accompanying Facebook page felt that it was being moderated by somebody who had just discovered the internet, and was catching up on the last few years’ memes. It posted links to the likes of the OK Go treadmill music video, the Johnnie Walker Robert Carlyle ad and “Guy catches glasses with face”. All great virals, but also familiar to anyone who’d spent much time online in the last year like the target audience. It didn’t position the Facebook group as somewhere to go to catch the latest and hottest.

No wonder then that as rival agencies’ Yaris campaigns began to get up stream, the Clever Film Comp got stuck on the grid. Facing the embarrassing prospect of no entries, the agency abandoned the idea of genuine user generated content, and with it what many would consider social media authenticity.

It forwarded this email to production house contacts:

From: Rob

Subject: Clever Comp

Hey creative people

I’ve got something that you’ll (or your housemates, brothers, sisters, artistic friends etc will) be interested in.

It’s a film comp in aide of promoting Toyota Yaris.

“A film comp? I don’t have the time!” you may say, but listen up. So far, NO ONE has entered and it has been open for more than 10 days and closes 1st December. Voting is done on hits and comments so if you’re in first you have a huge advantage. And you don’t have to make an ad, just put a Yaris in somewhere a la the ‘number 8′ or ’spring’ in Tropfest or something

First prize is $7,000. $3,000 for second and $1,000 for 3rd. At this stage, you could enter a picture of your cat playing in his kitty litter and win 7 grand.

Details are in the attachments. If you win, I’d love an all carbon fibre road bicycle for Christmas.

Cheers y’all.


As a result, this skewed the entries. If you promote the competition as an ad agency to your production house contacts then what you’re going to get back are slick would-be commercials, rather than short films. This was, as we now know, to prove important.

It certainly suggests that by this point the agency’s aim was to avoid the embarrassment of having very few entries for its contest, rather than to run an authentic, engaging competition.

When The Brand Shop’s Peter Bray wrote a guest posting for us on the contest, he placed the campaign in fifth place. He asked:

“Perhaps the account management and build was put together by interns? The Twitter followers are embarrassingly low, as are the number of Facebook followers. It seems a scattergun approach was used to build participation. Twitter appeared to be used for little purpose, as did Facebook, so why these platforms were even implemented has to be called into question. A social media campaign doesn’t have to use either Twitter or Facebook; there is no need to try and be everywhere. So combining the fact that the budget seems to be overly stretched, together with the dated mechanic and low level of participation means this campaign comes in fifth. Saatchi & Saatchi are definitely capable of better.”

As it happens, Saatchis haven’t returned calls on this issue throughout the process and certainly not since the crisis erupted (I believe PR practitioners would have their own views on the wisdom of that approach), so I don’t know for certain what the seniority of those involved actually was.

Even at this point, although it was becoming embarrassing for Saatchis within social media circles, it wasn’t the end of the world for the brand. Toyota had probably more than learned $15,000 worth of lessons about Saatchi & Saatchi’s social media savvy, which justified the budget.

But then came the key, bad decision. The ten most viewed and commented upon entries went in front of a jury. We don’t know who was on it, except it included mainly Saatchi & Saatchi staff, at least one Toyota representative, and they were “from the demographic”.

I suspect they weren’t given any kind of specific brief about Toyota brand values (or indeed reminded of the terms and conditions of the contest, which implied that non squeaky clean films wouldn’t be accepted). I wonder if there was even anyone senior in the room.

They selected the controversial ad we now know all about. And on December 6, just before 10pm, they posted the name of their winner to Facebook, and the timebomb began to tick.

It took nearly seven days to explode.

On Sunday afternoon I was in the office, clearing the decks for what I expected to be a busy week for other reasons. We’d written several times about the social media pitch, and I idly wondered if they’d announced their winner yet.

So I followed the link. I could not believe what I was seeing.

Wearing my journo hat, it was instantly obvious that by picking it as their winner, Toyota had endorsed the content. The comments on Facebook and on YouTube probably amounted to a couple of dozen at that point, but they all made the same point – it was sexist and offensive. And because it was made by a production house, it looked like a well made ad, not user generated content.

I started to write the story. And I called Toyota’s social media marketing boss Todd Connolly at home. When I put it to him that people were reacting against it, he was relaxed. He talked about how well made it was – which is true.

A marketer rather than a PR man, he saw it as user generated content. We had a cheerful chat even after I flagged up that I thought this was going to be a big deal. I suggested he looked at the comments, which he hadn’t seen and I suspect nobody else had been monitoring either – certainly there were no moderator responses.

I don’t think he realised that journalists and the public would not see it simply as user generated content once Toyota had selected it as its winner. Why would he? That relies on having the advice of a PR practitioner, who as far as I can see hadn’t been involved in that process.

I posted the story. A few minutes later, the first blogger to link to the story, Philip O’Neill, memorably referred to it as “abuser generated content”. It was a phrase which was to go global.

Within an hour or two the penny began to drop at Toyota. The video was taken down.

However, even at that stage I don’t think that those behind it actually understood that it was causing genuine offence to the public.

One of the comments that evening read:

“One minute Mumbrella and Burrowes are praising advertisers and particularly Toyota, who seem at least to have had a crack in the social media space, then Burrowes is shit-canning them in the next breath. Christ! Get a life! Try creating something for once rather than leeching off others’ ability and criticizing them. It must have been a very slow day in the Burrowes household. There are worse things on the net than this. Maybe Tim needs a good pounding.”

It’s funny how often the subject of unwelcome coverage story complains about how it must be a slow news day.

Although the video had been taken down, as they always do, copies began to pop up on YouTube.

At about the same time on Monday The Punch carried a robust opinion piece from David Penberthy and wrote a lengthy news story. (Interesting to note the differences in approach – Penbo was generous in his link back to Mumbrella. The Age story was based on our material apart from a new Toyota comment at the end, but behaved as if it was breaking the news. Last time that I wrote about Fairfax being bad link citizens, there were lots of cross denials. Interesting to see little has changed.

The story spread to other Aussie news sites. Then by Monday night the British news titles were covering it. Yesterday the Aussie papers and US media get in on the act. And this morning, it’s getting coverage on some of the large global ad blogs.

StreamGraph of Twitter propogation. Hat-tip: @ianlyons

StreamGraph of Twitter propogation. Hat-tip: @ianlyons

A big part of the problem is that if the public don’t read the story properly, it looks like a real ad.

By midweek, I began to feel a bit for the Toyota press office, which is more used to setting up journo test drives than crisis PR. During conversations, it became clear that they still had not been properly briefed by the marketing team and didn’t really understand what had happened.

Spokesman Mike Breen described the competition to The Age: “I’ve talked to the guy who looks after the social media side of things, and from my understanding the competition was run by Saatchi & Saatchi. It asked for individual production houses to pitch for what you would put together for a commercial for Yaris, and so one of these agency production houses produced this film that was then put up on a website.”

In later conversations with Mumbrella it became clear that the PR team was under the impression that the ad had only won a stage of the competition, and there were four other film making challenges still going. My impression is that Toyota (whose comms team have attempted to be nothing but helpful during this entire affair, by the way) has yet to nail down their message.

Going back to the cause of this, a big part of the issue is a cultural one. This could have happened to many ad agencies other than Saatchis. Culturally, very few are genuinely active and involved in social media. There are also few ad agencies who really understand PR. It’s hard to understand how social media really works unless you do it. There are only a handful of ad agency people who also have a genuine social media profile.

If they want a piece of the social media action that will have to change. They will need to start learning about it for themselves rather than using their clients as guinea pigs, or they will need to find partners who do.

In the end, it wasn’t social media that created this disaster for the brand – it was the lack of social media savvy.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Naomi eve
    16 Dec 09
    9:40 am

  2. Thanks for this detailed history. It’s amazing how such simple, basic rules of social media – and even of the great big intarwebz – were not even thought of. Emails will always be forwarded – never assume your attempt to game the system won’t be discovered! User-generated content and TV ads are genuinely different – never assume your audience (who are growing up with YouTube) can’t tell the difference. You will be held accountable for your engagements with social media – you can’t claim that since it is social media, it is some kind of alien infestation you have no responsibility for.

    The list goes on and on. I’m amazed at how WRONG they got it.

  3. Gezza
    16 Dec 09
    9:54 am

  4. @Tim. Thanks for the background on this it explains a lot, in particular why the ads/content looked so obviously like a collection of production house vanity promos. So clearly case proven on the media and engagement strategy failing.

    For the agency and creative team it simply exposes their desire to self promote above all else – but it was ever thus. With the demise of the “scam ad” these briefs are the only opportunity for agencies to prove how brilliant they really are.

    For the client it is simply staggering that a senior marketer working for one of the world’s biggest brands could imagine for a moment this piece as being remotely acceptable.

    P45’s all round I think.

  5. Matt Granfield
    16 Dec 09
    10:12 am

  6. Two golden points there Tim:

    “It’s now obvious that PR expertise is not an optional extra that ad agencies having a bit of a dabble in social media can do without.”

    “A big part of the problem is that if the public don’t read the story properly, it looks like a real ad.”

    Hear hear.

  7. Stuart
    16 Dec 09
    10:15 am

  8. Nice write up Tim.

    Couple of small typo’s in the later part you may want to clean up.

    Interesting to see how long this saga will play out, and whether heads will roll at either the Toyota or Saatchi & Saatchi end.

    I think the pivotal point is that email going out to production houses – was this checked by Toyota before being issued?

  9. ray
    16 Dec 09
    10:47 am

  10. Good discussion, very informative.

  11. DDsD
    16 Dec 09
    10:52 am

  12. Well written piece Tim.

    Initially when I heard about this competition between agencies using social media to ‘test’ campaigns (Or really.. stage stunts) in the real world, I was concerned that they would have mixed messages and damage the Toyota brand. As the competition ran, I felt less worried about the possibility for things to go pear shaped, as the efforts remained relatively contained within a small ‘sandbox’ and the idea of evaluating agencies social media credibility by allowing didn’t seem like such a bad one.

    Though this all fell apart when Saatchi pressed the ‘go viral’ button by upsetting the internet. While you could possibly excuse the selection of the winner if they crowdsourced the voting process to the masses, having it selected by an internal ‘panel’ is just poor form and showed they didn’t understand either the brand (due to their choice) or how this new fangled social media thing works (the crowd needed to vote on their favorite, even if it was from a cut down/approved for Toyota list).

    I wonder if this is going to be filed under the iSnack 2.0 category of screw ups?

  13. JT
    16 Dec 09
    10:54 am

  14. Could be wrong, but would think another fairly sizable part of the problem (especially reading the comments on other related articles) is the number of people in the industry that still don’t seem to understand sexism, whether against men or women.

  15. MrsMac
    16 Dec 09
    11:10 am

  16. Great article.

    What totally surprises me is the fact that the Toyota SM team had not read the comments? How can one be a Social Media director, and not monitor what is being said about your own SM campaign ? Astounding.

    And, on the agency involved, all to frequently I see agency behaviour that is driven by a primary desire to be cutting edge above all else. To save face for their agency and forget who the actual client is and who, in the end, they should be promoting.

    In this instance, was the impact on the client (both brand and individuals involved) ever considered or understood? What will the impact of all of this be on those involved internally – will the culture support this learning exercise?

    How could this clip be chosen in this particular market? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that this car’s primary market would be young females. So who thought it a good idea to promote a clip that on so many levels is just not acceptable?

    FAIL …

  17. Matthew Gain
    16 Dec 09
    11:16 am

  18. Really good overview Tim.

    Good news that the PR team have been helpful, but my reading of this suggests that the mulit agency whole competition, process and progress was news to them, despite it being played out for a while now in media.

    Not involving PR, or more to the point, PR not involving themselves in this high profile competition surely has to be called out as one of the errors made.

    In my opinion more reason to highlight the importance of social media being managed by PR rather than marketing internally.

  19. Gezza
    16 Dec 09
    11:47 am

  20. I’m getting fed up with where this discussion is going as a proxy turf war for PR agencies vs media/creative.

    Bottom line is the client signed off on the publication of this piece of offensive crap. That is the only place the buck stops. He could have hired all the PR in the world and he still would have made the same dumb decision.

  21. Kate
    16 Dec 09
    12:56 pm

  22. Great article thanks – good reminder that it’s hard to specialise in general. Many of these ad agency heads have never even used social Media – why do they think they can run a social media campaign?

  23. Schaden Freude
    16 Dec 09
    1:28 pm

  24. I’m glad you highlighted the benefit of this process, Tim. But some of the comments – for and against – have been on the nose.

    Toyota’s central insight in this pitch process was that no one – not even the experts – can claim full knowledge of social media. They were right.

    So, despite the obvious screw-ups, this has been incredibly instructive for the whole industry. Its a pity some folk’s careers need to pay for that.

    And to everyone who is scandalized and shocked – well you have a right. The ad was very foolish.

    But the glee and pontification in some of these comments has been almost as offensive as many of the idiotic justifications for the ad.

    Some disciplines are more equipped to work with social media, but we’re all about as experienced. Just be careful to wear pants when you’re walking around your glass house.

  25. Anon
    16 Dec 09
    2:04 pm

  26. great article tim. thank you.

  27. Sean O'Byrne
    16 Dec 09
    2:12 pm

  28. Have to admit, I had doubts about the open pitch idea at the beginning of this process. I felt it had the capacity for a lot of agency postering etc

    But having followed the story from initial brief, through to agency pitches and then to the actual execution of ideas and finally de-briefing at the end, i found the whole think completely facinating and educational.

    More open pitches…it’s good for the industry and for clients expectations.

  29. Venessa
    16 Dec 09
    2:13 pm

  30. As I said as soon as it unfolded…. companies should look at social media understanding when looking who to invest with… not just big name agencies… just because you have a big name on your door, doesn’t make you qualified to do the job… put your trust in people that understand your medium.

  31. David@luvyawork
    16 Dec 09
    2:16 pm

  32. Tim, I wouldn’t be betraying anything by saying that you’re pretty much dead on.

    Therefore, you will never make it as a Current Affair reporter (good thing).

    All in all, I believe it was less of a process problem than just some very bad strategic calls.

    I don’t agree with commentators that this will make any long-term difference to social media or the industry. In fact, the cream who actually get it right, or partner with those that can, will rise to the top.

  33. Tim
    16 Dec 09
    2:17 pm

  34. Great write up.

    And well worth a read if you’re the sort of mis-guided person who entertains the notion that social media is necessary in every campaign, is guaranteed to generate positive results or, indeed, is useful at all.

  35. Dave Mack
    16 Dec 09
    2:20 pm

  36. Great story and good to see the “full service ” agencies need to revew their description – they dont know it all and cant take all the money off the table – collaboration my firends is the key well done Oddfellows for understanding this and ensuring the client gets what they need – in this case Toyota possibily needed to think it through a little more before doing a bullshit “test” on the market but lessons have been learnt all round i would think.

    Big big FAIL!!!

  37. Glen
    16 Dec 09
    2:21 pm

  38. @SchadenFreude

    Nonsense. Using social media is not some big experiment where the outcome is an enigmatic divination of public will and/or stupidity. ‘Experience’ in/with social media is not what is required. What is required is a critical understanding of the specific function of deploying the various ‘social media’ tools as part of a well thought-out PR strategy and highly tactical management of these tools as a campaign unfolds.

    Brands go viral in a media ecology, ‘social media’ is a collective term to describe very different tools to manage the circulation of this brand in the ecology. Without the very active, hands-on tactical management of the virus-brand you simply have a bunch of people ticking boxes for a PR campaign recipe about what social media options they think are a good idea.

    Think tending to a brand garden and not baking a brand cake.

  39. Damian
    16 Dec 09
    2:36 pm

  40. People…let’s all calm down. Nobody truly understands social media yet and good on the clients trying in this arena if it is strongly felt that they have something to genuinely claim with respect to consumers being engaged with their brands.

    I am not on the agency side, but, as with Kraft iSnack yadayadah, someone in the Toyota marketing department thought this was a great idea and should be held accountable! Agencies will always push creative boundaries and should continue to do so. The risk control is more for the client to think about.

  41. sven
    16 Dec 09
    2:43 pm

  42. Gezza, you can get as fed up as you like about this being a PR v marketing/creative turf war – but that’s exactly what this is, and the only people who don’t recognize that probably work in marketing and think Westpac’s banana smoothie EDM was a fantastic campaign.

    Bearing in mind the resourcing and experience available in both of these large companies, the fact that no-one in marketing had any sort of PR sensibility is absolutely gobsmacking. Both of these atrociously myopic campaigns serve to rebut marketers’ regular refrain that they deserve a seat at the big management table.

    If your marketing work trashes the reputation of your employer, you haven’t even earned a right to sit at the communications table leave alone the big management table, because you’ve completely failed to demonstrate an awareness and understanding of the total communications mix and its affect on corporate reputation. I would hope that both Westpac and Toyota are now seriously evaluating whether Marketing should report into the Corporate Communications function.

    And it still amazes me that some people don’t understand that social media is the province of Corporate Comms/PR because at the end of the day it is an extension of the networking/word of mouth/conversations that PR is tasked with monitoring and influencing. Marketers talk about social media as this brave and amazing new world where there is 2-way dialogue blah blah blah.

    Well duh. Sounds like every thing good PRs have been doing over the last 20 years, repackaged in some enabling technology that brings with it some evolutionary, but not revolutionary, nuances.

  43. Belinda
    16 Dec 09
    2:45 pm

  44. Great articles Tim – this one and the first one. A bit of a painful learning process for those involved. But my question is, who were the dickheads who thought the ad was ‘clever’ or funny in the first place?

  45. Trevor Thomas
    16 Dec 09
    2:48 pm

  46. I want to be shocked, I really do…

    It reminds me a lot of ‘Mad Men’ where they had no TV department, so Harry Crane simply became the TV department! I think that’s what happening in a lot of the big shops. They’re moving very smart, very capable and very creative people into roles that they have no understanding of. That’s not to say they can’t learn it, I’m sure they can, but it takes time. Social Media is a very complex medium that requires a great deal of hours to understand.

    As a client, whether you’re dealing with a very big or very small agency on this kind of project, you should be able to find multiple active social media accounts for each and every person touching your account. If you can’t, walk!

  47. Schaden Freude
    16 Dec 09
    3:02 pm

  48. @Glenn

    “enigmatic divination”
    “media ecology”
    “brand garden”
    “baking a brand cake”

    They were just some of my favourites. But I think your first word summarises your whole response:

  49. Warlach
    16 Dec 09
    3:11 pm

  50. Great piece Tim, one little thing is the comments from the creators of the video themselves, including the classic “suck my dick” line which have also seemingly become a crucial part of the story.

    I like the fact that social media continually becomes the young maiden in the Spaghetti Western, arms outstretched while PR and Marketing pull her back and forth…

    “It’s OK boys, you can both have me!”

  51. sven
    16 Dec 09
    3:52 pm

  52. @glenn

    could you please explain what you mean as i didnt understand any of it

  53. Mich A
    16 Dec 09
    4:27 pm

  54. Unfortunately Saatchi & Saatchi, like most large agencies are arrogant and base their business models on fluff & greed. It’s always about them and NOT the client – or God forbid – the consumer. I can’t wait for the day when the glorious agencies understand that they have their niche and other SMEs have to be brought in the picture to service clients appropriately.

  55. Andre
    16 Dec 09
    4:39 pm

  56. Tim it wasn’t the lack of social media savvy, it was the complete lack of savvy. By both Toyota and Saatchi, (leaving Mr Dick Suck out of it – he just entered a comp).

    Anyone with a 101 radar for brands should have picked this up.

    Social media is just another way to connect and engage – the basic rules still apply to taste, class, humour and target markets.

    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  57. Walter Adamson
    16 Dec 09
    5:14 pm

  58. @sven, the big thinkers in either PR or Marketing understand all this and can get it worked out and implemented. But there are not too many of those, and that’s why I wince about your absolute claim that “social media is the province of Corporate Comms/PR”. I understand your reasoning, but I don’t agree with it on two counts.

    1. Because most of Corporate Comms/PR are duds and not practicing to your expectations. I say this from pure experience. Also from being lectured to about social media at evening events a la AIMIA by PR experts who it later transpires have neither a Twitter not FB account. Of course these are only tools. But trying to teach someone how to ride a pushbike, let alone the nuances, if you have never ridden one yourself marks a person as incredibly egoistical or stupid or both.
    2. Practice is against you, thank goodness and for good reason. Was Zappos sold for $1b for its social media run by PR? Is Bestbuy a business success story because PR runs their social media? Is Virgin America, Dell etc etc etc – the answer is always a resounding No and that’s because while PR may be a part it is not the whole of a firm’s engagement with social media.

    In fact I don’t believe it is the “province” of PR any more than the province of marketing – but both have a part to play, and expertise to contribute, in a social media team and an effective organisational deployment of social media.

    Walter Adamson @g2m

  59. Emveem
    16 Dec 09
    5:25 pm

  60. Its been said, but well done Tim. Thank you.


    Think its best if you keep your responses to words containing one syllable or at most, two, and avoid any creative similes not widely known, and used. Unless you conform to this, people will have to read sentences numerous times, look up words and use their imagination in order to gain an understanding and appreciate any insight.

  61. sven
    16 Dec 09
    5:53 pm

  62. @Walter with all due respect , your post doesn’t make a lot of sense. You use the a claim that you’ve been lectured to by a PR about social media when they don’t have an FB account to make the sweeping assertion that “most of Corporate Comms/PR are duds”. Aside from the fact that 1 anecdote can’t support a claim of that magnitude, all most Corp Comms need to know about Twitter is that it’s a legit channel, should be monitored and amplifies WOM so your reaction time to crisis compresses to nothing and nothing can be hidden from a watchful and twittering public. Hardly rocket science stuff. Pretty basic PR.

    Re your point 2, are you seriously suggesting that the value in Zappos, Best Buy, Dell etc comes from their mastery of social media, spearheaded by non-PR types???? Oh dear me @Walter you need to get out more! At least read some case studies and you’ll see that Zappos success is built around customer service (365 day return policy, free shipping etc), etc etc

    Finally, social media is not an amazing new discipline, it is just another communications tool.

  63. Kristen
    16 Dec 09
    6:07 pm

  64. Great post, Tim.

    Something to think about – how many potential Yaris owners will decide not to buy the car because of this snafu? (I’d guess it’s not a huge number…) vs the number of people that now know what a Yaris is solely because of this campaign. (And who knows, maybe once the dust has settled a handful of them will end up buying one.)

    The whole ordeal has certainly tarnished some agency reputations, but I’m not so sure I’d chalk it up as a fail for Toyota – particularly since, as you’ve said in your post, their marketing folks have handled this with grace under fire.

    The ‘clever’ brand positioning might have been lost, but I still believe the

  65. Toyota as much to blame
    16 Dec 09
    10:03 pm

  66. Okay. So I have to say it. I think what Saatchi did is embarrassing but in a lot of ways I think what Toyota did is far more embarrassing.

    The best marketers in the world have really tight relationships with their agencies and work in tandem to create solutions, whether in social media or traditional media, that will really move the dial. Think Apple/TBWA, Honda/Weiden, Fosters/Clems, Burger King/Crispin. This assignment from the get go showed a complete disrespect for the brilliant thinking agencies and clients are capable of when they work together. There is no togetherness here. Quite sad actually. If this were my agency I would have said no to this disaster in the making.

    I have looked at all of the work that was created by the different players in this game and it is all worse than average. I have worked on Toyota before and this is classic behavior by them. Rule by fear and you will get what you ask for, crap work that was created by a bunch of people who are pissed off about being treated like second class citizens. Congrats.

    One last point. Let’s not forget, Toyota approved the winner along with Saatchi.

  67. glen
    16 Dec 09
    10:51 pm

  68. @sven
    I started writing a comment to hopefully explain the main point of my comment, but it got too big, so I posted it to my blog instead:

    @Schaden Freude
    “media ecology”
    “Media Ecologies” by Matthew Fuller (no relation). Check it out.

    Maybe have a look at my blog post to get an idea of what I am talking about for the rest of your list. Oh, but:

    A distinction long used in war game theory and more recently cultural theory. A ‘strategy’ is what a commander has and is determined by a somewhat abstract appreciation of a battle. It is normally defined before hostilities begin. It is the overall plan of a battle. A ‘tactic’ is what the soldier on the ground does and is determined by a hands-on and messy engagement with the battle. Soldiers are trained in ‘tactics’ so they become second nature. Social media needs both levels of planning/engagement.

  69. saatchis is an ad agency
    16 Dec 09
    10:57 pm

  70. Saatchi’s is an ad agency. What is an ad agency good at?

  71. Anonymous
    16 Dec 09
    11:33 pm

  72. I think the only thing this whole woeful exercise has proven is that there is no cure for stupidity.

    And stop acting like social media is rocket science, this is nothing to do with lack of social media saavy, it’s just lack of clever people.

    Sorry for being mean :(

  73. Jordan Stone
    17 Dec 09
    4:53 am

  74. Excellent summary Tim, many thanks.

  75. Rod Gonzalez
    17 Dec 09
    6:20 am

  76. Tim,

    Terrific play by play! Your detailed and clear (don’t see this often enough) description, helps us understand the flow of information. Previous posts have focused on the relationship of the agency and the lack of any understanding of the media (rightfully so).

    What’s frightening, is that the “father” in the spot (it’s a spot), is won over by the sleazy kid and contributes to the sexual inuendo. Again, the father contributes to the sexual inuendo. Was there ANYONE over the age of 18 looking at this thing?

    So in an effort to gain some traction I’ll just need to pimp out my child. The Saatchis need to toilet train the team before sending off to work.

  77. Adi
    17 Dec 09
    6:31 am

  78. Are you kidding me? It’s brilliant… I think S&S did exactly what they intended to do. People like me in Wisconsin just hunted this ad/video down and now Yaris is on my radar.

    Frankly, sexism and incest aren’t exactly the riskiest concepts for a brand to take on…c’mon, mixed with a certain humor, it probably does a brand good. I’m female by the way, and consider myself a feminist — my jaw did drop but more so because of the nerve… no, they didn’t just…

  79. CBonds
    17 Dec 09
    6:42 am

  80. Great Story. This type of thing happens all the time when companies and ad agencies blunder into social media without knowing what the risks are. A bad move on YouTube or Twitter can taint a company for a long time – especially now that Twitter and Google have struck a deal to have tweets about popular topics included into Google’s search results.

  81. Adi
    17 Dec 09
    7:15 am

  82. I also agree with Anonymous, Social Media isn’t a big mystery. Companies will be exposed from every angle and now they need to interact with their customers on a regular basis. The only thing they need to do is be sincere and authentic. It’s not that complicated. It’s the same on the individual level. Customers, people, appreciate involvement, openness, discussion, compassion, strength, etc. If I worked as Toyota’s Facebook moderator, I would discuss the situation, explain our thinking, talk about what these issues are about, etc.. I would defend and apologize where appropriate. I don’t think companies’ reputations are fully on the line with Social, they just become more personified and personable… and they need to embrace that and act accordingly. They’ll be forgiven and perhaps adored.

  83. Janet Jozefak
    17 Dec 09
    7:20 am

  84. Great “case study” — my question is: Was it lack of social media savvy or lack of overall communication. I find the second to be more of a catalyst for “ooops” moments in any and all departments in an organization. Your story highlights the lack of sophistication in using the channel but it also seems to point out that there was not a lot of communication, and hence understanding, internally about the project. As a marketer it should amaze me that there was not one person to hold up their hand and interject but at the same time I have been around the block enough to realize that this type of stuff happens all too often in the land of fifedoms.

  85. Julie Squires
    17 Dec 09
    7:22 am

  86. Good write up, Tim. Social media seems to be a great leveler.

  87. Mike Handy
    17 Dec 09
    7:47 am

  88. I have extremely mixed feelings about this. I get the outrage but as an Ad guy, I probably would have let it ride. Sexism isn’t new or shocking and most of the people making a fuss fall out of the target audience so it just makes sense to run with it.

    I think we are seeing a lot of companies get nervous when they see negative feedback and its ability to viral. Really though this is a bit of an over reaction on Toyota’s part. Action creates buzz so from a PR stand point they should have just let it ride out and let the story take itself. PR 1.0 says control the story… but that world died ten years ago. Some skills and talents are still valid but controlling the story just doesn’t work anymore.

    The clip is well made and I personally found it rather enjoyable… offensive and sexist is the Shower cam being done for breakfast in the UK by Burger King.. If your interested.

  89. Derek DeVries
    17 Dec 09
    8:07 am

  90. I don’t really see how this qualifies as a huge disaster (unless it’s a huge disaster because a big-name ad agency was behind it).

    It’s unoriginal, sure (BMW executed this concept far better with their film series several years ago) but I don’t think this does any damage to Toyota’s brand.

    Sidebar: It’s perhaps putting too fine a point on it, but the Ok Go treadmills video for “Here it Goes Again” was released three years ago, not one. People cite it as an example of how viral video works forgetting it was preceded by a similar low-fi video for “A Million Ways” – and neither would have gotten off the ground if the band hadn’t built a strong network of fans through years of relentless touring and one-on-one contact with fans.

  91. Wilson
    17 Dec 09
    8:56 am

  92. This is a great article and dissection of a mistake, but I do feel compelled to say, I’d hardly call this a learning, in that nothing that happened here was even reasonable in the first place. Regardless of a fundamental lack of understanding of social media, the very choice of this video as well as suddenly changing the campaign dynamics to request professionals to make videos are just on their face wrong. I don’t think it’s harsh to say these are elementary mistakes just as wrong and intolerable 10 years ago without the social media tools at hand.

  93. sven
    17 Dec 09
    9:02 am

  94. @DerekD – are you serious when you say you don’t understand how this is a big reputational blunder? the small car market is highly competitive, with a large % of female buyers and with little true product differentiation, and toyota has just given thousands of potential owners a reason to turn off toyota and test drive a holden, mitsubishi or mazda instead.
    @MIke – “Action creates buzz so from a PR standpoint they should have let it ride”..err, i don’t suppose you’ve done much in the way of PR have you? an immediate apology and explanation as suggested by @Adi was the only thing they could do to clean up a PR mess created by myopic and stupid marketers

    this is not about a lack of understanding about social media – it’s about a lack of understanding of PEOPLE

  95. SHG
    17 Dec 09
    9:19 am

  96. Nice writeup Tim. Good work.

  97. Schaden Freude
    17 Dec 09
    11:54 am

  98. @glenn

    I read your post. Interesting, but academic.

    I won’t get into the practical reasons why your recommendations wouldn’t work in what was a 2 month pitch process.

    The main point is that the Yaris case study has proven an agency probably shouldn’t claim to be an expert with only some of the skills required by social media. Otherwise you’ll get caught out.

    You need PR nous, along with an understanding of social theory (that you clearly have), as well as the ability to create wonderful content (ad agencies). And PR – it seems – is possibly the must-have of those three.

    But honestly, until this Yaris situation, I can’t think of any case studies that have proven this multi-disciplinary requirement so openly and decisively.

    So, @glenn mate, yes we are still learning. Which means that anyone tut-tut-ing ‘I-told-you-so’, or coming up with blanket statements based on theory alone, needs to ask themselves some hard questions.

    After all this banging on, I sure as hell will.

  99. Gdossor
    17 Dec 09
    12:04 pm

  100. I saw this on the Age site and was frankly not surprised. Toyota, traditionally have never understood PR. Instead they choose to rely on their agency and ill-asigned marketing staff, both which you could argue are inexperienced to manage PR and Social Media. As a big fan of Toyota and as someone who has worked on Toyota accounts, I can only hope that their new internal agencies soon to be underway will get a grip and do the right thing by the brand.

  101. Mike
    17 Dec 09
    12:28 pm

  102. The question should actually be about cost benefit. I understand PR is all about controlling the story but I dont think its ideal in this case.

    I agree that the biggest mistake made was to allow pros a shot at winning. This should have all been Amateur content… Letting Pro’s make videos violates the authenticity clause of social media.

    I understand the Ad isn’t PC but in this market they should have let it create a buzz. Axe does fine with Ads that are way more sexist then this. Just so you know more women buy products for males than buy cars. The second biggest mistake here is that this was not an ad for a Sicon…

    Would I create the Ad personally no, would I approve it, probably…

    @sven Im just starting to get into PR but it seems like a cross between Law (conservative, message control) and marketing (message crafting). PR is going to have to become more progressive or it will struggle in a new economy. The story isn’t your’s or mine anymore, its ours. Pulling content down just drives that same content further. Look at P2P networks, no matter how hard the music industry tried it couldn’t shut down P2P sites. The music industry only made headway when they offered competition that added value to the user.

    In Toyota’s case the correct move would have been to bury the lead with a new pro women concept…(it would have cost in charitable giving but that’s never a bad thing)

    On twitter @mhandy1

  103. sven
    17 Dec 09
    12:45 pm

  104. @Mike – sorry your info is 20 years out of date. Yes, PR like most other forms of communciation, is ultimately about influencing the story – otherwise it has no purpose. With the internet came the diminution of this abilty and an acceptance that control had to accede to dialogue and persuasion. Don’t think for a minute though that social media can’t be used by PR to influence the story. While people can always point to examples of clumsy/inept/ignorant PR/social media ampaigns, there are many others that are fabulously successful, such as isnack2.0, which used the arrogance and conceit of many social media users to inflame the speed with which the entire world heard about a new kraft product.
    This is a good example of “negative” buzz that ultimately worked because there’s no real offense caused to your audience. The Yaris stuff up is in a different league altogether.

    What won’t be surviving is social media acolytes who think it’s far more than just another communications tool and ad agencies that don’t understand the total communications mix – especially the fact that people aren’t waiting to be sprayed with messages anymore.

    The beauty of good strategic PR is that 99% of people remain unaware that their information environment is being manipulated to influence their views.

  105. kate
    17 Dec 09
    1:04 pm

  106. It’s sad that so little recognition was given to the other entries. Toyota Yaris – Best Ride – Censored Version was made by a couple of guys aged 19 & 18. They were not from an agency. Their film was deemed a little risky, hence the deleted scene in the middle, however it was far less risky than the eventual winner. There was no acknowledgement from Saatchi’s for the effort made by all the entrants and if they had known it was such an unfair playing field, they probably wouldn’t have spent all night editing and begging favours to borrow gear.

  107. Josh Peters
    17 Dec 09
    3:31 pm

  108. This isn’t the first time Toyota combined with Saatchi & Saatchi have blow it in the social media space. Last month they “borrowed” some images without asking from Flickr groups and photographers

  109. Suzanne Tennant
    17 Dec 09
    10:37 pm

  110. I’m not yet convinced this is such a total disaster. As a mid-twenties female I found the ad hilarious, and so did a lot of my friends. Why would it offend me? It plays on the stereotype of a predatory male, and makes HIM look like a jerk – I think it’s clever, well thought-out and slick.

    Anyway, my main point is that I’ve spent far more time looking at and talking about the Yaris in the last couple of days than I previously have in a lifetime. I’ve passed the video onto friends and tweeted about it several times – so whether through incredible cunning or a spectacular lack of understanding of social media, Saatchi and Toyotal have definitely boosted the Yaris brand in my eyes.


  111. jonathon
    17 Dec 09
    11:00 pm

  112. confused:

    Toyota actually already HAS a social media manager??? what does he/she do all day?

  113. Jon Paget
    18 Dec 09
    12:39 am

  114. Suzanne – I find your comments really interesting and it’s good to see a different point of view. And to some extent I agree. I’ve heard a lot about this story/video and the Toyota Yaris recently.

    It still amazes me that established agencies are being trusted to dabble in services they don’t know much about. I speak to and work with a variety of PR agencies and, without exception, they have always been the first admit their inability to offer certain services (online).

    Why were Saatchi & Saatchi different?

    To read about them ‘borrowing’ images from Flickr just exacerbates the problem.

    If the report is true and there was a Toyota employee present at the meeting to select the winning video, more fool Toyota.

    It seems to me it’s about time Social Media was given more respect as a legitimate and successful tool (and not something that just provides quick wins by throwing a facebook campaign together), not just by corporates but also from the traditional agencies.

    What’s the impact on the Yaris brand? Time will tell…

  115. gareth
    18 Dec 09
    2:29 am

  116. Im confused by your line:

    “Why would he? That relies on having the advice of a PR practitioner”

    You need a PR practitioner to tell you the difference between user generated content and non user generated content?? Surely thats just common sense isnt it? If the SM manager/director has a job where he needs to know nothing and relies simply on outsourced professionals to tell him what is and isnt, then i want that job please.

    Are there really agencies out there that call them selves marketing experts and they dont know anything about SM? And are we relying on PR’s to educate us?

    I see a huge opportunity for my 10 year old daughter here….

  117. Gareth Jones
    18 Dec 09
    2:31 am

  118. Im confused by your line:

    “Why would he? That relies on having the advice of a PR practitioner”

    You need a PR practitioner to tell you the difference between user generated content and non user generated content?? Surely thats just common sense isnt it? If the SM manager/director has a job where he needs to know nothing and relies simply on outsourced professionals to tell him what is and isnt, then i want that job please.

    Are there really agencies out there that call themselves marketing experts and they dont know anything about SM? And are we relying on PR’s to educate us?

    I see a huge opportunity for my 10 year old daughter here….

  119. Lindsay Davies
    20 Dec 09
    5:50 am

  120. Thanks for a great detailed post Tim. The main disaster here, as I see it, is the dishonesty in the way the campaign was executed. The PR v marketing v social media argument is a constant discussion – it’s quite obvious that different disciplines have unique skill sets and need to work together on communication for brands. If businesses were more socially orientated from the core there would be more of a handle on social media comms and it wouldn’t just fall to the team pushing the social issue the loudest.

    Kate highlighted a good point about the lack of recognition for the creators of real UGC – the non professionals who bothered enough to create a film about the Yaris. That’s a real shame.

    As for the content of the film…schoolboy humour – some people love it, some people don’t, but it has got people talking. Will it stop people buying a Yaris, no – not if they want one. Will it make people think about getting in a car with someone like the dude in the ad – hopefully!

  121. Julio Ricardo Varela
    20 Dec 09
    1:29 pm

  122. This is one of the best pieces I have read this year. Thank you for the detailed report, and it is clear that the old way of thinking just does not transfer well to social media. Everyone is still figuring it out, and this is a great opportunity for people who truly understand SM and are avid practitioners. SM is so much more than being hip and trying to be different. What a missed opportunity for such a large and respect agency.

  123. Luci Temple
    23 Dec 09
    12:35 pm

  124. @SchadenFreude

    Actually, there ARE people who understand social media. Like, the people who use it, just for starters.

    The key reason why advertisers (and even some PR people) get it wrong is because they have the wrong mindset. The Advertiser model is about “broadcast” : you control the content, you control the context, the message is one way from you to the audience.

    Social Media is about building relationships: the audience (participants) have input, can alter the message, can alter the context, and ultimately they control what happens. It is up to them whether your message gets to go viral based on whether you have something that is of value to them, in which case they will pass it on. If you’re not genuine, if you reek of being a snakeoil salesman, you’ll not be ignored – you’ll be lamblasted.

    Your comment that no one knows how to handle Social Media simply shows how self absorbed the advertising industry is. There is a world outside advertising that is using social media to achieve great things. Go read a few books about it and you’ll quickly learn more than Saatchi evidently does.

    A few of the many possible titles to start you off:
    “Connected Marketing” by Kirby & Marsden
    “Marketing to the social web” by Weber
    “The new rules of marketing & PR” by Scott
    “Fans Friends & Followers” by Kirsner
    “Socialnomics” by Qualman
    “Inbound Marketing” by Halligan
    “Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin
    “Social Media Marketing for Dummies”…

    I might add, the fact that you’re posting anonymously further indicates something about your (lack of) understanding of social media. Credibility is gained by being honest and transparent, two things the advertising industry is not well known for.

  125. Mike
    23 Dec 09
    12:38 pm

  126. duh! you guys are Ausies… this all makes sense now. For the states its not that edgy could even run on late night TV.

  127. Stuart
    23 Dec 09
    12:39 pm

  128. Mike – that just proves it. America really is the global moral drainage pipe.

  129. sven
    23 Dec 09
    12:57 pm

  130. Mike, that is such crap. As an aussie who lived in the US’s most liberal city, San Francisco, for 2 years, i can tell you that the US is waaaaaay more socially and politically conservative than Australia. The question is not whether it could run on late night TV – it probably could in most western countries – but whether society on the whole would find it offensive. And western societies do find the puerile voyeuristic/incestuous overtones offensive. If this ad ran in the US there would be an enormous uproar – and not just from the religious right

  131. Aneliesa
    6 Jan 10
    1:26 am

  132. NEVER!!! be impressed by deceived females who think disgusting filth is a bit of a laugh!!! I will NEVER buy that brand of car EVER and I will NEVER support them in any way whatsoever!!!

  133. dictamus
    7 Jan 10
    7:16 am

  134. The problem here isn’t that they didn’t understand social media, although they sound weak in that too, the problem is that unreconstructed sexism is still very much in evidence throughout marketing and advertising, and in those areas you will bump into misogynists at every turn.

    You can only imagine the porn-addled brains which thought this nasty little film would be found acceptable by the general public. They need lessons in respecting women, but that probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.

  135. DigitalMLab
    14 Jan 10
    9:25 pm

  136. Nice article.

    I think you have touched on a much bigger issue of agencies learning digital on clients time.

    Traditional agencies still have a long way to go and having 1 digital resource does not suddenly make an agency a digital specialist.

    There are many cowboys and this is just one of probably many examples where agencies are selling a digital concept without having the background experience to deliver on it.

    This should be a note of caution to many.


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