Why The Population deserves to win the Toyota Yaris social media pitch

In this guest posting, Peter Bray picks his winners and losers of Toyota’s real world social media pitch.

This has been a great exercise for our industry in general. It has caused us to not only examine the traditional pitch process, but also to call into question exactly what social media is, how agencies deal with budgets, pitch tricks and whether or not advertising can co-exist peacefully with social media. The Toyota Yaris pitch it has been valuable conversation, sometimes it has been bordering on litigious, but the discourse has been happening.

My ranking is based not only on the idea produced, but also something that is very important to clients in a pitch process, being a realistic understanding of what they get for a certain budget. If agencies knowingly create a $100K campaign on a $15K budget and are prepared to make a loss in order to win the pitch, this to me is not only disingenuous, but it also will put the client/agency relationship on the wrong foot from the start as false expectations will have been set. Clients that are swayed by an agency that is prepared to make a loss in order to win the client in the short term should be aware that nothing is free, and the winning agency involved would seek to recoup its costs down the track.

Fifth – Saatchi & Saatchi – Clever Film Competition

In fifth place in my rankings is the Saatchi & Saatchi offering. The idea itself seems quite dated given how many other online short film competitions there have been, and I am unclear as to how this represents a social media campaign rather than an online promotion. Yes it used YouTube in order to allow people to view the videos and vote, but there really was little imagination. Using a large portion of the $15K budget on the prize giveaway also brings into question how accurate the campaign is as am indication of what Saatchi and Saatchi can deliver. 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, but then they did well to get in the final five.

Fourth – Hothouse – Win a Yaris with Blunty

Coming in fourth is the Hothouse execution. This is a difficult one to rank. The big question asked on this campaign is that the client specifically gave a $15K budget, yet within this Hothouse managed to not only give away a car with a list price of more than $15K, even at cost, but also managed to get Blunty on board as well as do all the build and account service using the same pot of money. I have seen some rabbits pulled out of hats in pitches, but this just doesn’t seem at all realistic. Hothouse have done a lot of brilliant work for Toyota over the years as their digital agency, however it was surprising that a digital agency’s response to this pitch would incorporate a giveaway mechanic. On the positive side, the creative produced was very good and they weren’t relying on people to submit their own videos, which traditionally has very poor results. A big question that has to be asked is what does this campaign do for the brand, and the consumer’s relationship with the brand. What is the short, medium or long term value of this giveaway? This mechanic doesn’t seem to be stimulating conversations with consumers. Now often this isn’t important, but when you are being judged on the social media success of the campaign it is paramount. This campaign just needed to extend the inherent advantages of social media a bit further and it could have been so much more.

Third – One Green Bean / Host – American Werewolf In A Yaris

This generated a lot of interest within the echo chamber that is the advertising community, but it had a few things going against it. Firstly, it is very event specific, which meant it was exceedingly difficult to build momentum, let alone awareness. Halloween is gaining traction in Australia, but it seems that the agency looked for an event that would take place during the judging period and then made an idea around that, rather than coming up with a great idea then looking for synergies. However, putting a guy in a werewolf costume certainly adds an element of fun. This is the sort of idea that will cause a few chuckles at agencies but does not necessarily resonate with consumers, and from the stats available it doesn’t seem that it was close to reaching tipping point. This idea could have been a lot better had there been more budget for multiple Wolfys (or other assorted characters) but having only one person who could give people lifts restricted the level of chatter about the campaign. The Twitter activity on the Wolfy page was far lower than I anticipated, and the tracking of Wolfy could have been better, but again given the limited budget the execution of the idea should be applauded. The notion of having a person driving a Yaris around the city giving people free lifts in a chauffer capacity resonates with the brand on a number of levels, and the avoidance of the drink driving, though it wasn’t explicit, has a feelgood factor to it. The use of Twitter and Facebook was relevant and of value if you wanted a lift. I just can’t help but get the feeling that this idea could have been so much bigger. Due to budget and time restraints, it came across a bit too much as a one laugh gimmick, and with the addition of the Chk Chk Boom girl it becomes two laughs. I would love to see this idea expanded upon next year however.

Second – Iris – Bootboxing

In runner up position, which means they are a winner as they would progress to the next round, the Iris Bootboxing campaign gets the nod. The idea is a good one on a number of levels, even if it isn’t entirely original. Bootboxing is something that the target market co-opt as their own movement, and it is a simple idea that can be magnified in a number of ways. The concept is extremely simple, which means it has excellent viral potential. With social media, complicated mechanics are doomed to failure. In addition, my pet theory is that you have the greatest chance of viral success if the viral can be summed up in 5 words or less (a cat plays piano, annoying chipmunks sing, Paris Hilton naked etc) and this effort ticks that box. Iris clearly displayed great consumer insight when they came up with this campaign, and they chose to back the strength of their idea rather than relying on a prize giveaway. Tying it in with Toyota’s MySpace affiliation makes a lot of sense, since this is clearly a direction that Toyota wish to pursue. I keep on thinking that there is an opportunity in the space for an automotive brand to own the inside of the car so maybe these are tentative first steps. I can imagine that this campaign would actually require around 15K to implement, so them coming up with a campaign that reflected the budget is a big positive. The metrics for this campaign stack up very well, and combined with the great on-brand creative and the fact the campaign can take a life on its own, its hard to find fault.

My winner – The Population/ Oddfellows

The issue of Melbourne / Sydney rivalry is nothing new, but what made this campaign impressive was its use of social media to bring this rivalry to life. This campaign has a few vital elements that aid good performance in the social media space. In social media, if you overtly push the product, you are dead. A good social campaign needs to connect with people’s emotional triggers, and leveraging off the Sydney v Melbourne rivalry is a smart way to use another issue to aid your own agenda. What they are doing can be thought of as sponsoring an issue rather than an event or person. Like the Bootboxing campaign, this campaign can easily take on a life of its own, can be reasonably expected to cost only around 15K, and the issue doesn’t need an online media spend to support it. Instead of spreading the risk of the campaign by using a variety of social media platforms, the campaign was only on Facebook, and this move paid off. It was also very smart to create a Chinese wall in Facebook by having two separate pages for the campaign, one for Sydney and one for Melbourne. With the Yaris being the ultimate city car, and then actually having a Yaris contest between two cities, the campaign is completely on brand as well. Connecting with consumers in this way is reflected in the number of Facebook friends. I was surprised by the number of followers for each city, and by making it a contest between the cities in naturally spurred on the rivalry, resulting in more and more friends for the client. If this campaign was to continue, my question would be how do they then convert some of those friends into test drives. A good idea often does need a prize giveaway to be successful, and this campaign proved that if you hit the right nerves, people will connect with you for the right reasons.

There is still a lot of argument about which metrics in social media are important, just as we are still sorting out some aspects of online display measurement. Given I am not familiar with the specific strategy behind each, my rankings are fairly subjective, tempered with what I hope is a decent degree of industry knowledge combined with equal doses of cynicism and excitement about social media in general. Social media isn’t scientific. Yet. But then again neither is advertising, no matter how much post rationalization we do.

Kudos must go to all five agencies involved for a few reasons. Firstly, they won the first phase of the pitch to get this far, which some seem to forget. Secondly, not only did they have to generate ideas that would stand apart from the competing agencies, but they also had to have their ideas approved by Toyotas team and implement them in a relatively short time frame. Finally, these agencies have been open to subjecting themselves to industry scrutiny. To all the people giving them a hard time, imagine if you were involved in a pitch and the entire industry viewed what you put on the table. Not easy to do. It takes fortitude. So well done to all involved, regardless of the official outcome.

  • Peter Bray is director of digital at The Brand Shop


  1. mumbrella
    4 Dec 09
    10:46 am

  2. (A few declarations of interest: Hothouse’s Scott Rhodie co-presents the Mumbrella Podcast, and I’ve taken a ride in Wolfy’s car)

    The beauty of our guest postings is that they generate interesting opinion pieces which I don’t necessarily agree with. This is one of those occasions.

    For what it’s worth, I think scoring Hothouse poorly for getting a video blogger (Blunty) to do some of the heavy lifting is a bit of an underestimate of the potential role of PR in social media. For me, good PR is partly about building relationships with people like Blunty so they will do that sort of thing for you and your brand if there’s something in it for them (original content). On the other point, as Toyota had to approve the campaign, clearly they must have provided the car at cost rather than list price.

    Iris lost my vote from the moment that somebody (I’ve no evidence it was someone from the agency but they also made no effort to stop it) got caught astroturfing this site with a string of positive comments about Bootboxing from the same IP address. That’s not good stuff for a brand to get caught up in.


    Tim Burrowes – Mumbrella

  3. Jason
    4 Dec 09
    11:28 am

  4. Hmm – I completely disagree. The Populations campaign was actually fairly ordinary. It is a tenous link between which city is the greatest and the actual car itself.

    The Sydney vs Melbourne thing basically meant that all memebrs at the Pop could recruit all their friends and therefore make up the majority of the 6,000 or so people

    The one thing I know abotu the Yaris c ause I have one is that it looks cool and edgy. The Hip hop video actually used the car and tapped into a young cool genre, therefore a much better fit for the Yaris brand.

  5. Larry
    4 Dec 09
    11:59 am

  6. not sure an essay was required here

    hothouse – got youtube ‘internet famous’ guy who appears to be well removed from the target audience of the vehicle to give away a car to the best comment. will it sell cars?

    iris – got local hip hop guy and guest cast to do an inane video slamming doors and using the indicator and horn to make the sort of music that makes you angry. if toyota are giving out $15k for similar efforts I would like some cash to subsidise the recording and video of me farting the instrumental of pharoah monch’s ‘simon sez’. will it sell cars?

    saatchi – have to respect their lack of effort. outstanding. will it sell cars?

    one green bean – cute idea aimed at targeting the trade press and not consumers. either brilliant or completely misses the mark. will it sell cars?

    population – hard to tell. in isolation seems tokenistic but as part of a wider ‘relationship’ idea you never know. will it sell cars?

  7. Tobe
    4 Dec 09
    12:41 pm

  8. If the brief was to create social media buzz, Populations was the closest. If the brief was to create a great stunt using social media channels to support it, OGB wins it for me.
    The best thing of all… they all got paid for doing the pitch.
    That’s what this industry should be demanding. We give too much away for free.

  9. Batty Face
    4 Dec 09
    12:41 pm

  10. The biggest take out from all of this is that there are a few marketers out there prepared to shake things up and try new stuff – about freakin time! And good on Toyota’s digital bod for doing just that.

  11. Carlos
    4 Dec 09
    2:18 pm

  12. At this rate there won’t be an agency called The Population for much longer, the two co-founders have both recently left for jobs at other agencies!

  13. version
    4 Dec 09
    2:31 pm

  14. Is it against the “rules” of social media to use off-line media to support a social media idea? Not sure.

    I thought the Wolfy idea was memorable and added some street cred to the Yaris brand, but this benefit could have been much greater if it was supported with some targeted off line media like street press/street posters etc.to rapidly extend the campaign’s reach and fuel conversations amongst people outside of the industry.

  15. threebillion
    4 Dec 09
    3:54 pm

  16. I’m gonna put it out there…

    The Iris Bootboxing campaign is the only one which I considered good/interesting/entertaining enough to be shared with my friends. It therefore wins my ‘social’ award.

    Whether I or any of my friends will now buy a Yaris in the next 12 months is still undecided.

  17. Leanne
    4 Dec 09
    5:08 pm

  18. Will it sell cars??

    Ultimately Marketing it about increasing sales, however one of the most important parts about Marketing is Branding. So, while most people touched by these social media experiments will not automatically go out and purchase a Toyota Yaris, the name is out there in some way, shape or form. So, when a young 20 something year old wants to purchase a car then hopefully Toyota Yaris is somewhere on the list.

  19. Larry
    6 Dec 09
    1:37 pm

  20. leanne … branding is the facade people hide behind when they can’t attribute anything tangible to their ‘marketing’ efforts.

    yes, am aware that it’s highly unlikely that someone will go out and buy a yaris tomorrow as a result but will these efforts contribute to influencing the decision of someone who might be looking for a car in 12-18 months and didn’t have Yaris on their consideration list?

    i guess it doesn’t matter as there’s no way of tracking it … but luckily we can measure the important stuff like retweets and facebook friends.

  21. Peter Bray
    7 Dec 09
    8:24 am

  22. Hi all

    Some have asked me privately why I have been possibly too nice in my review of the work.

    I don’t think that I have been at all. As an agency that was on the original list of 13 or so, I know how hard it was to get in the top 5, and no I have no affiliations with anyone at the final five. As I mentioned, being held up for public scrutiny isn’t easy, and for that all the agencies should get a pat on the back.

    As I made very clear, it is an incredibly subjective area, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Toyota disagreed with my opinion in all counts, and they would be equally “right” as me.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the next phase of the pitch.


  23. Ben
    9 Dec 09
    5:21 pm

  24. Larry, brand work most certainly does sell cars. Far from not being trackable
    , there are some decent research companies that can track results from this sort of campaign. Ben


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