Toyota’s Newest Television Ad

February 8, 2010

I caught Toyota’s new mea culpa television advertisement this morning. Evidently, it has been running on such high-rotation that people are starting to think it’s the video for the latest Beyonce song.

The advertisement is such a boilerplate corporate job that it almost looks like a Saturday Night Live parody. It starts out with black and white photos from the earliest Hollywood Toyota dealership. Quickly it moves to shots of good old red-blooded Americans building Toyotas in the factory.

Since video is nothing without audio, there’s the requisite soothing piano to calm the scared and frustrated nerves of the customer. Then the ace-in-the-hole: the smooth-voiced narrator pulls out the “we’ve let you down…we’ve let ourselves down”. All we’re missing here is the crying Native American chief for pure cheese-effect.

As an automotive journalist who witnessed his first television advertisement copy (for the local Diabetes Bike-A-Thon) aired while in fourth grade, I give the Toyota spot a solid C-minus. It lacks creativity, context, and looks and sounds like a big corporation that is sorry for getting caught.

Instead of the bogus mea culpa, Toyota would have been much better-off doing a quick explanation of its problems. Just off-hand (really– just stream of consciousness), I’d think about something also along the lines of “there are thousands of parts and hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code that go into making any modern car run. Every model from all makes has parts fail, resulting in technical service bulletins and even recalls. However, at Toyota we’re known and have staked our reputation on being better than the rest. Recently we’ve discovered that a couple of parts and a few software commands were not created to the standard we require, so we’ve engineered fixes and along with our factory-supported dealerships, we’re going to get them into every Toyota…quickly, safely and with no excuses.”

I would also add somewhere that “this is not the fault of the hard-working men and women on the production lines.” After all, the failures have been in the engineering of the parts and software, not how they were assembled.

At the end of the day, it’s a hard line to walk for a company. It needs to admit fault and ask forgiveness, but it also can’t scare people into thinking that this a more dangerous, more widespread problem than it really is. Of course, when a company shuts down its production lines, halts sales of many of its vehicles and has the nightly news programs talking about stuck throttles and no brakes, there’s really little way of making it sound any worse…

…unless your apology sounds like parody.

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IMDB.com, credit and fame meters

February 28, 2008

My life is complete now. I now can be found on Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) as an actual contributor to film/television.

I feel like Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) in “The Jerk”. “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!…Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now!”

Last year I received an email from writer/producer Lee Goldberg indicating he was in the process of writing a movie-length television pilot called “Fast Track: No Limits”. Lee is one of television’s elite writers with credits ranging from “Spenser for Hire”, “Hunter” and “Cosby Mysteries” to the first season of “Baywatch”. (Baywatch wasn’t a particularly tough gig, seeing that “hot girl in bikini walks by” often sufficed for script content.) Lee is actually best known for producing Diagnosis Murder, which makes him a celebrity in retirement communities from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. He is also a respected mystery writer with numerous books to his credit.

“Fast Track: No Limits” was designed to be car-action-centric and focused plot-wise around an American girl running a mechanics shop in Germany (where the pilot was based, filmed and destined for broadcast on an English-language network.) Lee needed a car guy to assist with ensuring the movie was realistic and factually correct. Although I give him credit for owning a Miata, Lee would never be mistaken for a car crazy enthusiast.

This is where I came in. I enjoyed giving input about the cars specific characters should drive, what technical problems could plague cars, and what (based on Lee’s fabulous character development) the solutions/responses might be.

My work…if you can call it work…earned me a credit for Technical Consultant. I would have loved to get a chance to drive the cars, but an amazing group of stunt professionals were called-in to perform the jaw-dropping race scenes. Still, just to get the call to help on the production and an official credit in the movie, I’m tickled as pink as Suki’s Mitsubishi Eclipse in “2 Fast 2 Furious”.

It’s not that it’s my first time working on a television or movie project. I wrote my first television advertisement script at the age of 11 (with classmate, Kevin Bleyer, who is an Emmy Award-winning writer for “The Daily Show”.) This ad for the Diabetes Bike-A-Thon ran for several weeks in the Seattle market. (I’ve also written and performed the voice recordings for dozens of radio advertisements.)

A couple years ago, I was honored to get the opportunity to help out Jay Rowlands, the great director/star/writer of the vintage car racing film “Clutch”, which will be released in 2008. My capacity was more of a business and marketing consultant, offering ideas for distribution, co-marketing, licensing, PR, and funding.

All of my past work in non-print media, however, has been uncredited in the eyes of the Internet. Now I have an IMDB page dedicated to my tiny, yet everlasting entertainment legacy. Heck, there’s even the IMDB “Starmeter”, which indicates my star stock is down 67% this week…probably because “Fast Track: No Limits” ran last week on German television, and this week I’ve done nothing to keep up my stardom. I need to find another movie or television project to prevent me from falling into last place on IMDB’s ratings. I’m not sure who is in last place right now, but I’m guessing it is on the level of some guy who got coffee during the taping of “Love Boat”.

Actually, I heard “Fast Track: No Limits” has just been released on DVD in Spain…so I suppose I can now officially say “I’m big in Europe”.

If I want to retain my fame (which IMDB indicates is fleeting), I’ll need to get working. Maybe I’ll adapt “Sam Barer’s Four Wheel Drift” for the screen…or a television reality show…