Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

LAS VEGAS – The results are in, and the most talked-about TV ad from Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast was not the one about Toyota’s new Tundra fullsize pickup.

And that is just what the auto maker intended.

“The idea is to sell trucks, not win awards,” says Don Esmond, senior vice-president-automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

That process begins in earnest today. Winning Super Bowl coach Tony Dungy still was wet from his Gatorade shower last night when the first Tundras began rolling out to dealerships from Toyota’s new truck plant in San Antonio.

Jim Farley, group vice-president-marketing, tells Ward’s at the 2007 National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here that each of Toyota’s 1,200 U.S. retail outlets will have four Tundras within a week.

Toyota paid $5 million – its highest-ever Super Bowl spend – for two airings of a 30-second ad showing the Tundra racing down a ramp and through a pair of steel doors just as they are closing. The truck stops just before it runs out of road, one that ends on a ramp hanging over a deep canyon.

Because of the broadcast’s largely male demographic, Toyota could not afford to miss being part of the Super Bowl telecast, Farley says. However, the brand’s low profile in the pickup segment – Tundra is the auto maker’s first true, fullsize offering – required a greater emphasis on the product than entertainment.

“The reason why we decided to go in the Super Bowl is it’s a pickup truck and it’s a demonstration ad,” Farley says. “The customers told us, ‘You’re an underdog in this segment. No one knows about Toyota and fullsize trucks. So you can’t get me to notice because you’ve got a better cowboy.’”

Dealers here got the message loud and clear.

“The demographics for the Super Bowl audience is mostly men,” says Leonard Northcutt of Northcutt Toyota in Enid, OK. “Toyota needs to identify itself (with them).”

Of the ad, he says: “That was the first time I’ve seen it. It’s very effective.”

Jason Mossy, of Mossy Toyota in San Diego, agrees. “They went after really showing how big and beefy that truck is,” he says. “The timing was perfect.”

Adds Timothy G. Nash of Michigan-based Northwood University’s automotive marketing program: “The key with advertising is you want people to be able to feel the performance of the vehicle. That ad showed the power of the engine that (the Tundra) has.”

Nash argues the suspense generated as the truck races toward the edge of the canyon also was entertaining. “It got the ‘ah’ factor as well,” he says.

When Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. launched its fullsize Titan pickup in late 2003, expectations were that it would sell about 100,000 units. But the Titan has fallen about 20,000 units short of its goal, hamstrung by a market dominated by Ford Motor Co.’s F-Series pickup and General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet Silverado.

Nevertheless, Farley is confident Toyota can deliver 200,000-250,000 Tundras annually.

“There’s this kind of image in the fullsize truck market (of) incredible loyalty,” he says. “The reality is almost a third of the pickup truck replacements, the guys who are buying another pickup, switched brands. And we think we can get a good percentage of those. At least 25%.”

The domestic fullsize pickup market accounted for about 2.3 million sales in 2006, according to Ward’s data. But that total is down about 10% from 2005.

Internet sites featuring Super Bowl ads barely mention the Tundra spot today. Of 12 spots broadcast during the first quarter of the game, one poll shows the Tundra ad was favored by 1% of 40,000 voters – good enough to share eighth place with a Sierra Mist soda commercial, but well behind the 42% approval rate garnered by a Blockbuster Video ad featuring an animated guinea pig.

However, a comment posted by one blogger suggests the Tundra ad hit its mark. The posting reads: “The ad took guts. The trucks looks like it’s got guts too.”

The blogger’s name: Bubba.

emayne@wardsauto.com