Toyota's Violent Yaris Car Ads

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Ads for Toyota's newest economy car, the Yaris, feature the car taking on some animated animals. In one, an animated piggy bank gets assaulted to emphasize the gas-slipping car's penny-pinching attributes. Slate advertising critic Seth Stevenson has a review.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

By the name, it's hard to know: is it a small compact car or maybe a ferocious carnivore? Toyota's ad campaign for its Yaris car has irked some animal lovers, but the ads have intrigued Seth Stevenson, who's ad critic for the online magazine Slate. Seth brings us this review.

Mr. SETH STEVENSON (Ad Critic, Slate Magazine): It seems some of you are disturbed and confused by a series of ads for the Yaris, the new compact car from Toyota. Let's see what the fuss is about.

(Soundbite of advertisement for the Yaris)

Mr. STEVENSON: A pink, computer-animated piggy bank materializes inside a white room. The piggy looks around for a moment to get its bearings, then notices it's not alone. There's a mean-looking car a few feet away, eying the piggy with bad intentions. The pig trembles with fear as the car extends a long, metal tentacle from under its hood. The tentacle attacks the piggy with a laser...

(Soundbite of a laser firing)

Mr. STEVENSON: ...a circular saw...

(Soundbite of circular saw)

Mr. STEVENSON: ...and finally a hammer...

(Soundbite of glass breaking)

Mr. STEVENSON: ...reducing the little pig to crumbled shards. Then the car grabs one of the gold coins the piggy bank held and snatches its loot back under the car's hood. An on-screen graphic reads, starting at $12,405, while the announcer says, Yaris from Toyota.

Soundbite of Yaris Ad: Yaris from Toyota.

I've received a lot of reader email about this ad, and your criticisms fall into two main categories.

First, you're troubled by the brutal treatment of that animated piggy bank, and second, you think Toyota's sales pitch is garbled. First, the garbled sales pitch complaint.

Some of you feel that the ad's plot, the Yaris smashes a piggy bank and steals the money inside, suggests that this car will break the bank, as the idiom goes. Yes, a different scenario might have made the ad's message clearer, but this seems like a pretty minor misstep. The price tag prominently displayed at the end of the spot makes it awfully hard to miss the ad's point.

As for the dismembered pig ...

(Soundbite of laser, circular saw, and hammer)

Mr. STEVENSON: Your e-mails have called this ad creepily violent, and you express dismay over that poor piggy bank. One person thinks the takeaway here is that Yaris cars kill cute things. What seems to really bother folks is the piggy's frightened reaction. It blinks its eyes in disbelief at the psychotic car, takes a wary step backward, and shakes with terror just before the car's laser slices it in half.

(Soundbite of laser firing)

Mr. STEVENSON: The sequence is slightly over the top. What's more, in another Yaris ad, the car runs over a spider, causing it to squeal in pain.

(Soundbite of squealing spider)

Mr. STEVENSON: The spider is made out of gasoline nozzles, and the ad is meant to suggest that the Yaris is fuel efficient, but clearly, this car hates animals. But why does it hate animals? I think it's a way to make a teensy economy car seem a bit tougher and less emasculated, and really, it's harmless.

Compare these spots to the vile Dodge Caliber ad in which another cheap-o subcompact asserts its manliness by making fun of a fairy. The Yaris campaign is targeting 18 to 34-year-olds, and it does so without showing high speeds, slow-motion maneuvers on a sneaky desert road, or a happy crew of passengers pulling surfboards off the roof rack. Instead, it focuses on the car's basic features: its low cost, fuel economy, and the fact that you can plug in an MP3 player. This utilitarian approach seems more typical of an ad campaign for a vacuum cleaner, and I think it works. I give the ads a B+. I like that the Yaris isn't trying too hard.

CHADWICK: Opinion from Seth Stevenson. He writes the Ad Report Card column for the online magazine Slate.

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