Toyota Highlander Geek Family Kid Versus Supernanny Smackdown

Folks who follow me on Twitter might know that as a marketing writer myself, I recently had some, um... strong... opinions on the new Toyota Highlander ads series.

These commercials are the ones featuring the blond, tousled-haired tot who is the self-proclaimed Mr. Blackwell of all that is Cool and Roadworthy in the world of foreign minivans.

See, this mouthy munchkin has been dealt such a rough hand in life...

While he personally is apparently so cool that car windows frost up when he walks by, he also bears a horrible burden. He confides that he, by some strange twist of fate, is son to the "Geek Family." Parents who drive an unfashionable wood-paneled family truckster circa 1985.

From what I can tell, the trouble with this car isn't reliability or even spaciousness. It's that it's not even retro enough to be sufficiently back-in-style for his discerning elementary school tastes.

(Y'know, like velvet Elvii, lava lamps, or 60-year-old Cher wearing electrical tape again.)

So we are naturally led to agree that the opinion of a person whose whole life has spanned the service of a single two-term President is the one we should be following for our major automotive decisions.

Unfortunately, when you are a changeling from the Magical Land of Coolsville, where the highways are paved with gold, and all the precious wee ones ride in Corinthian leather car seats in supercars, well... landing up in the Geek Family truckster becomes a painful pothole in your young existence.

And that's where I think Supernanny needs to come in. See, I would like Supernanny to sweep in the moment Coolboy's disrespecting Geek Dad's sock-and-sandal footwear combo, give the kid an eight minute broadcast time-out on the Naughty Curb, and lecture the adults on backbone, brats and parenting.

Says Supernanny Jo in my happy vision:

"You will sit on the Naughty Curb for disrespecting your parents, making Bart Simpson look like Mother Theresa, and not being even half as funny as your ad agency writers think you are. You will sit here for an eight-minute media black-out, and then you will apologize to your mother, father, and primetime viewers on basic cable."
Barring that, I would settle for some Roald Dahl/Willy Wonka-style justice.

Now, of course, there are those who would say, "But it got your attention, and you're talking about it now, giving it press, so therefore, it is good marketing!"

I figure those people also probably enjoy pebbles in their shoes and Pauly Shore marathons and can make excuses for that, too.

See, for me:
Positive Attention
Hey, I might still consider this product/service in my decision-making process.
Negative attention, or in this case, "causing me to disproportionately contemplate the lamentable state of the world in terms of parenting, respect and manners, even though I know very well it's only a friggin' 30-second car commercial"
Associating your product with smart-mouthed, fast-talking kids, and reminding us why nobody ever really liked Danny Partridge much. And look how he turned out.

But just think: somewhere in the Magical Land of Coolsville, by the babbling energy drink brook and sitting under the tree where the hot new video game discs grow, is the real Geek Family Kid-- the missing one, the one that got swapped by the media trend fairies for Too Cool Boy.

Sure, he probably has a haircut shaped like a cereal bowl and knows Star Trek episodes like baseball stats. But in this magical land he might just say an even more magical word to one of the adults.

Like "please" or possibly "thank you."

The Coolsville elders will have to call a meeting to figure out how to handle it.

Are there any ads out there right now that make you blow a gasket, scratch your head, or just wish they would go away?


Jaffer said...

I don't watch TV - so I've never seen this ad.

So, now they are selling cars to children ?!

Though they do state the obvious that many children would like their parents to have better cars.

My fan level for Toyota has gone down several notches.

Barry said...

Eddie Haskel would be a better spokesman.

Unknown said...

Jaffer- No, they're selling cars to adults who can be guilted by their inner child. :) Unfortunately, the inner child in this case is a smart aleck.

Barry- There is an Eddie Haskell quality to him, isn't there? That sucking up to the neighbor lady part...

Jaffer said...

Ah I see...

My inner child is always hungry for ice-cream, pizza, and fried chicken - Cars are not yummy and taste like dust and paint according to him.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

You have no idea how much I appreciate this post. I've seen this commercial and didn't think twice about it, actually, but I could totally see myself getting all worked up about it, given the right frame of mind. The perturbing thing about this is that they dig inside your mind because marketing is all about psychology and they spent months and months and millions of dollars on what would eventually end up as this commercial (and quite possibly, a series of commercials) so no - IT'S NOT "JUST A 30 SECOND CAR COMMERCIAL", but that's what people would say if you tried to even begin to point out all that is wrong with this ad. I stand behind you in this blatant miscarriage of marketing, my dear!

So hats off to YOU , my dear.


Unknown said...

Jaffer- Your inner child is wise beyond his years. Let's hear it for more pizza, less paint! :)

Nanny Goats- I actually looked online before I wrote this and there were various financial and parenting blogs saying they didn't care for the commercial, too-- and at every one, a few commenters chiming in with how, no, the commercial was brilliant because it "accomplished what it set out to do." Or "it's only a commercial, lighten up." I think the sales will ultimately be the answer for whether it's successful or not.

timethief said...

I rarely watch TV but just recently watched a show that featured a commercial for a vehicle. I don't remember the brand. What I do remember is that it depicted a family watching videos, wearing head phones, texting, etc. as they drove of on their "family holiday".

I was astonished. Since when did "not being in the now moment" and not even witnessing, let anloge enjoying the landscape, and not discussing what you see and what you plan to do become a "family vacation"?

During the next commercial break we sitnessed another idiotic car commercial depicting a couple sitting on a fallen log while a bear man handled their car. Believe me when I saw that I have a healthy respect for bears and that person in the bear suit hasn't a clue about how real bears actually behave.

Thanks for the opportunity to rant a littel. Now I'm off to serve some customers.

Best wishes,

Unknown said...

TiTi- Always glad to provide a rant outlet. :)

That first commercial I think is actually a sort of sad reflection of how things are today. I've been at holiday dinners where folks just sit texting or playing video games. I know growing up there's NO way I would have been allowed to do that!

Surfie said...

I am so glad to have read this post! I too can't STAND that stupid commercial. Every time I see it I want to slap that little brat right across the face and give him a kick in the pants while I'm at it. What moron thought up that ad campaign? Even if they were advertising the most awesome car on the planet and I was dying to have it, I'd be more likely NOT to buy it out of spite just because of that obnoxious commercial.

Jenn Thorson said...

Surfie- Probably someone who either doesn't have kids, or hasn't set boundaries for their own kids. And I wonder if it weren't a team brainstorming effort that ran amok. I can see where what might have started out as good nugget of an idea got taken in a direction it couldn't return from.

Nick said...

You forgot "Roger and Me," directed by a great big turkey

cardiogirl said...

There's a commercial for some sort of car insurance -- it might be All State -- that has a cocky guy who personifies a storm. I swear he wears a suit and tie and his face is sort of beat up. And he tries to sound like Dirty Harry.

He stands on a branch above a parked car while it's windy and rainy and says, "Shaky, shaky I'm a wind storm," or something equally stupid.

Then the branch, and the guy, fall onto the car and he says something like, "You're screwed if you don't have All State insurance."

I cannot stand that guy and every time I hear him say, "Shaky, shaky" I want to smack his face.

Okay, I had to Google that. It *is* All State and the campaign is called "The Mayhem is Coming." It stars some guy named Dean Winters. Am I supposed to know who Dean Winters is?

He's a punk. That's what I know about him.

Janene Murphy said...

Great post. Those commercials drive me crazy, too. "All the cool parents have one. You should, too?" What is this, junior high? Right now there is this online ad that is just killing me. It is trying to entice me to refinance my house with a photo of a guy who supposedly looks like God. Yes, God is telling me to refinance my house. What's up with that?

Unknown said...

Nick, I think that maybe you meant this to go on the Holiday movie list post. :) At least, I hope so. :)

Cardiogirl- AH!! I hate that "shaky-shaky" thing myself. The first time I saw it, I thought I misheard. I HOPED I misheard.

"He's a punk. That's what I know about him."

That made me laugh out loud.

Janene- Oh wow, I didn't know God was now telling us to refinance. I'd better get with the program.

Anonymous said...

I eagerly await the next installment in this series that has the boy shotgunning his geeky family down and him happily riding off in the sunset in the highlander of his new cool family.

Unknown said...

Anonymous- Well, the Highlands WERE violent at one point in history. :)

Vanessa said...

I don't know where to even begin here. I'm a marketing writer too. We've shot commercials with kids. This commercial is just...bad on all accounts.

If they're trying to be funny or ironic by portraying the child as a little brat, it didn't work. We're not laughing, the kid's not telling jokes and he's not funny.

Then there's the execution. High production value or not, this is lazy.

Finally, the child is cute but he's not a convincing actor. Did they go through an exhaustive casting call to find him or does he belong to one of the producers? Maybe this could have worked as comedy if he laid it on thick and really portrayed a too-cool-for-school snobby persona, but I can tell he's just reading lines.

And finally, the message. It's just plain shitty.