Swagger Wagon

2 06 2010

It was in 1983 that North American automotive history was made with the introduction of the minivan. Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca rolled out both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager to a driving public ready to ditch the station wagon in favor of a more family-friendly vehicle.

And a new star was born.

While there had been many vans before, and even a few that technically could have been called minivans (the Volkswagen Bus comes to mind), it was the prescient Iacocca who saw the Baby Boomers coming of age and in need of something to haul their kids and all their stuff. Soon GM, Ford and the Japanese makers followed suit. Minivans were all the rage, symbols of American mobility and active lifestyles.

But by the time the 21C rolled around, minivans had become decidedly declasse, replaced by SUVs with higher seating and 4-wheel drive for all of those suburban curbs we encounter. Uncool. Unhip. Hopelessly mired in the 20C.

Skip forward to 2010 and Toyota, who had for an instant catapulted into world leadership in the auto industry, found itself drowning in a sea of bad publicity concerning a little acceleration problem affecting many of its vehicles. In the wake of Chrysler announcing its plans to ultimately kill the Caravan, Toyota was still quietly producing Siennas for the few soccer moms not embarrassed to be seen tooling around town in one.

And then a stroke of sheer genius happened. With one broad swipe of the marketing brush, Toyota made the minivan hip and cool once more by utilizing social media to launch an entire ad campaign. Enter, stage right: The Swagger Wagon.

While a few of the ads have been running on prime time TV, the whole campaign is available on YouTube. It’s a slice of life straight out of the early 80s: a young mom and dad, with two young kids in tow. Except these parents can rap. And can toss out a few subtle hints of their own marital enjoyment.

Did I say this was genius?

Is it ever. While TV ads are usually in the realm of chunky 30- and 60-second blurts, web-based ads can run free-form as long as Toyota wants them to run. Like even 2 1/2 minutes.

Better yet is that the TV ads drive viewers to the Sienna YouTube channel where they can view all of the ads in their long-run glory. The rap clip has been viewed well over 2 million times as of this writing.

Yes, and people are actually going to YouTube to be entertained. By ads. Go figure.

Leveraging the social graph to pump some life into both a dead category and a dying company is marketing of the highest order. A Facebook Fan Page is one thing, but a dedicated YouTube channel exploiting the power of the medium stands head and shoulders above all other social media platforms.

And while dad may look quite the nerd, mom is, as her neighbor says, pretty cute. It’s almost enough to make me want to go check out Siennas. Lee Iacocca can’t hold a candle to her.

Dr “Where My Kids At” Gerlich

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