Different Ads, Different Ethnicities, Same Car (Published 2017) (2023)

A father and a daughter driving after baseball practice. A momentary glimpse of a peacock. An ignored phone call from Mom. The Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

All of these are part of Toyota’s marketing campaign for its new Camry. But which commercial you get to see may depend, in part, on what ethnicity you are.

Different Ads, Different Ethnicities, Same Car (Published 2017) (1)


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This commercial of a black man driving is centered on the theme “strut,” and features an image of a peacock and the entrance music of the wrestler John Cena.

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A Latino man enjoys his driving experience so much that he dares to decline a call from his mother, a move that the target audience is meant to see as rebellious.

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A father picks up his daughter from baseball practice, a casting decision made to suggest that the Camry brings out the affectionate side of Asian-American fathers.

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‘Transcultural Mainstream’

A schoolboy, a young woman and a bespectacled man are each waiting for someone. Their counterparts are joyful and unworried as they drive with Queen playing.

The company recently unveiled the numerous ads it had made for the car, several designed to resonate specifically with African-American, Hispanic or Asian-American audiences.

People may see different commercials based on whether they are watching “Scandal” on ABC, which tends to have a high number of African-American viewers, or a show on the Spanish-language network NBC Universo, according to the company’s ad agencies. Some of the ads that are meant to appeal specifically to minorities will also run on programming that appeals to a general audience, like “Sunday Night Football.”

Viewed together, the ads — and their different story lines, music and actors — offer a glimpse into how race and culture figure into American advertising today, showing how an ad for one product can evolve depending on who is making it and whom it is marketed to.

“People like to see people of all ethnicities in what they’re seeing because that’s the life they’re living in most of the U.S. today,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota brand.


At the same time, added Mr. Hollis, who is white, “if a person of any group is looking for communication that is like them, that looks like them specifically, the good news is because of the breadth of something like a Camry campaign, they can find it.”

Companies have developed commercial campaigns aimed at minority groups for years, often in conjunction with specialized ad agencies. But Toyota’s efforts show how major companies are adjusting their marketing tactics as the nation’s demographics shift.

Some wonder, though, if these kind of specialized ads are even needed when the country’s population is getting more diverse.

“You see a real blending and a more progressive acknowledgment that there is significant diversity” in mainstream advertising, said Shalini Shankar, a professor at Northwestern University and the author of the book “Advertising Diversity.” Still, she said, “it doesn’t hurt to have more stuff that acknowledges that race is real.”

The advertising industry does not have a great track record when it comes to race, whether it’s the ads themselves or the lack of women and minorities at many agencies that make them. Just days ago, Dove was pilloried for a Facebook ad in which a black woman removed her brown shirt to reveal a white woman in a light-colored shirt.

The Camry campaign was developed jointly by a group of four ad agencies — one general agency and three that specialize in each ethnic group. The agencies — Saatchi & Saatchi, Burrell Communications, Conill and interTrend — each aimed their ads at Americans 25 to 49 years old and built them around the theme “Sensations.”

Four of the eight commercials are below, along with explanations from each agency about what it was trying to accomplish in its marketing.

We want to hear from you. Does a targeted approach reinforce stereotypes, or help represent a wider range of communities? Are there any past ads, bad or good, that have stood out to you?

African-American consumers

The ad from Burrell, an agency that has specialized in African-American consumers since the 1970s and has worked with the likes of McDonald’s and Comcast, is titled “Strut.”

It features an African-American man who orders a pizza from a restaurant that offers free delivery. “No, no, pickup,” he says, enjoying his drive as the hip-hop song, “The Time Is Now,” by the professional wrestler John Cena, plays in the background.

The image of a peacock flashes after he opens the garage to reveal a red Camry, emphasizing the idea of showing off.


He then drives past a movie theater whose marquee reads “Now Showing Out,” and he earns an admiring look from an African-American woman.

“What we found with African-Americans is style really comes to the forefront in how we look at vehicles,” said Lewis Williams, Burrell's chief creative officer. “We see automobiles as extensions of ourselves, so style is really important.”

Vicki Bolton, a group account director, added that the agency’s research had led it to the idea of strutting, because “we wanted people to take notice of us.”

The actor was cast to portray “someone who felt athletic, who had this space that he could feel like a guy’s guy but could be a great father, someone who maybe moved to the suburbs and hadn’t lost his edge totally because now he has a car,” Mr. Williams said. “It gave him his strut back.”

The music was also chosen to signal confidence and athleticism, and to give the ad a contemporary feel.

Mr. Williams and Ms. Bolton, who are both African-American, said the agency relied on research, personal knowledge and a philosophy called “positive realism” to avoid stereotyping.

“We always make sure we portray African-Americans in a positive light when we do any kind of media, as well as be very authentic to the stories we tell,” Mr. Williams said.

“People want to see themselves in messaging,” Ms. Bolton said. She added that millennials may have broader social circles, but that “when they come home at the end of the day, they still want to see messaging with people that are reflective of them.”

Asian-American consumers

In the commercial titled “Captivating,” a Chinese-American father picks his daughter up from baseball practice in a red Camry. She is focused on her tablet in the backseat until he turns Pandora on. As the music kicks up and the engine revs, both of their faces light up.

The ad is from interTrend, a Long Beach, Calif., agency that specializes in marketing to Asian-Americans. It is the only Camry broadcast spot to focus on a father and daughter. The father was specifically cast to “highlight a not-often-seen behavior,” said Julia Huang, interTrend’s chief executive, who is Taiwanese-American.

“Traditionally, Asian fathers show less emotion and affection toward their kids,” Ms. Huang said. “We wanted to show that driving the Camry brought out a different side of an Asian dad and how he wanted to share the experience with his daughter.”


When asked about the potential pitfalls of perpetuating stereotypes through race-targeted ads, Ms. Huang said the word “has a stigma” attached to it. From a research perspective, she said, it is not stereotyping to say Asian-Americans view family and education as particularly important.

“I’d like to say there is some value for value attributes that we pick up, and we highlight that,” she said, “so it’s not really a stereotype — it really is a core value that is embraced.”

Baseball was chosen, Ms. Huang said, because it “is a universally popular sport among all Asian segments.” Others, like cricket, were dismissed as being “too obvious.”

Hispanic consumers

The ad, called "Rebellious,” shows a young man in a red Camry zooming down a highway when he sees his mother is calling his phone. He hesitates before deciding to decline the call, breaking into a smile and focusing on the joy of the drive.

This commercial, which is in Spanish, is one of two from Conill, which markets to a Hispanic audience.

Conill, which creates ads in both English and Spanish, approaches its work by considering how “acculturated” its target consumers are, said Jennifer Dellapina, group strategic planning director at Conill. It uses a model that “takes into account how long a person was in the United States, if they were born here, which language they speak, which culture they tend to feel more connected to,” she said.

When Toyota’s agencies gathered, they concluded that potential Camry buyers were broadly ready for change, though the Hispanic consumer sought “some guardrails” with that effort, Ms. Dellapina, who is white, said. That came from a sense of responsibility, particularly to family, she said, adding that “internally, we called it ‘soaring with sense.’”

That insight is reflected in the ad when the man declines the call, which Ms. Dellapina called an “edgy move.”

“It’s a Hispanic thing — you’re going to talk to your mom once a week,” she said. Still, ignoring the call isn’t too radical of a move.

“He’s not jumping off a cliff or burning down his house — he’s just not answering the call from his mom, and it’s sort of implied in my mind that he’s going to call her back later,” Ms. Dellapina said.

In the agency’s other ad, titled “Striking,” a woman with a perfect manicure is driving a red Camry in what appear to be red heels, carefully applied makeup and jewelry.


She applies red lipstick before strolling out of her red Camry to her final destination: a supermarket. The idea is to bring style wherever you go, Ms. Dellapina said.

All of the characters in Conill’s commercials “are everyday people who portray different situations based on strong Hispanic insights, like the Latino woman who always wants to look and feel attractive — even when she is just doing the everyday tasks,” the firm said in an email.

The ‘Transcultural Mainstream’

This commercial, titled “Thrill,” is one of four spots from Saatchi & Saatchi, and features a version of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” by Queen.

It shows a schoolboy, a young woman with bangs and a bearded man with glasses each waiting impatiently for someone to arrive. Their counterparts — a father, a significant other and a female colleague — appear to have forgotten about their duties as they enjoy separate, unworried joyrides in a Camry, until their phones ring and a reunion takes place. The six actors appear to be a mix of white and nonwhite.

The agency recoils at the notion that, by default, its ads may be designed to appeal first and foremost to white people.

“There is no Caucasian market,” said Mark Turner, chief strategy officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, who is white. “The mainstream market as defined by any mass marketer like Toyota actually comprises many different cultures, so we’re not the Caucasian agency. We’re the agency that caters to the transcultural mainstream.”

Outside of Queen, the commercials use songs like “The Look” by Roxette and “What a Wonderful World,” and show a variety of ethnicities among actors.

“We wanted every person in our campaign to be relatable, but we didn’t want people to get to know them too much,” said Jason Schragger, chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, who is white.

The ads sought to use familiar places, like the office and road trips, to highlight excitement around the car and its features.


“I have people of other cultures and heritages in my department, but I do think the three other agencies bring a depth and history of experience with their markets that would be very hard to replicate overnight by going out and hiring a handful of people or half the agency,” Mr. Turner said.

Culture, he added, “is a very complicated and hard thing to understand and get right.”

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