BRUSSELS - Toyota Motor Europe is reviewing its marketing strategy in Europe in an effort to sharpen its brand image and differentiate itself from other Japanese automakers.
Toyota has put is European advertising and marketing contract up for bid. Toyota Motor Europe is reviewing proposals from Saatchi & Saatchi Europe, its Brussels-based agency for the past two years and several other undisclosed agencies.
The review will be completed by mid-summer, said Andrew Pfeiffenberger, general manager of Toyota Motor Europe's brand communications and merchandising. 'We feel we need a strong partner - and Saatchi may be that partner - and we need to define what the longer-term vision is,' he said.
A major aim of the new advertising strategy is to achieve consistency throughout Europe, where Toyota has 23 separate distributors. The distributors may have to align themselves with Toyota Motor Europe's chosen partner for national advertising campaigns.
'We have a serious need to establish a strong awareness for the brand, and to differentiate ourselves from the Japanese pack. We have every intention of becoming a long-term European player,' said Pfeiffenberger.
Saatchi is currently the most widely-used agency among Toyota distributors in Europe - but it is only used in five markets, including the UK, France and Poland. Saatchi is also Toyota's lead agency in the USA and in a number of Asian markets.
Other manufacturers are moving toward single agencies for many markets. For instance, Renault uses Publicis in nine countries and Volkswagen uses DDB in 12 markets.
But consolidating marketing and getting rid of duplication does not mean Toyota wants a pan-European advertising strategy. 'We want a pan-European execution, that is our focus,' said Pfeiffenberger.
'We are not blind to the fact that there are certain cultural issues or automotive issues that require different communications. It's about consistency in the overall brand presence,' he said.
The advertising review is part of Toyota's growing emphasis on marketing in Europe. Until 1996, there was no formal marketing division at its European headquarters.
'Most of our focus has been on the sales side, rather than on building the brand,' said Pfeiffenberger. 'We have a huge portfolio of product out there that perhaps we are not using to the greatest potential.'
A huge step was taken in April 1998, when Toyota launched a new marketing group called the Sounding Board, comprised of representatives from the five biggest European markets, together with Denmark and the Netherlands. 'They work with us to define a communications strategy for launch, and develop communications with their local agency partners as well as with us and Saatchi,' said Pfeiffenberger.
Sounding Board members' agencies and Saatchi & Saatchi Europe competed for the campaign to launch the Yaris, Toyota's new small car. The decision for the Yaris campaign was left to the Sounding Board group - and Saatchi UK won. The campaign slogan is: 'The new Toyota Yaris. It defies logic.'
Each of the 23 distributors were free to choose either the proposals for print and television advertising that won the competition, or use their own. But the acceptance of the Saatchi campaign was clearly beneficial for some smaller Toyota distributors. 'They were able to get a $1 million advertisement for a very low price,' said Pfeiffenberger.
Eighteen of the 23 distributors took the Yaris campaign. Three went their own way, and two are running print advertisements only. Italy and Germany both decided to use their individual agencies.
'Germany felt that they were not convinced with the piece and were also going through a change of agency,' said Pfeiffenberger. 'Italy felt they were in a growth phase and wanted a hard-hitting piece.'
Saatchi is working with Toyota to refine the Sounding Board process and to 'make it more flexible,' said Pfeiffenberger.
'The Yaris campaign is an example of Toyota's new brand image - in terms of the basic direction, policy, content and focus. But is it our final brand language and tone? No, we're not there yet.'