2010 Toyota AvalonEnlarge Photo
The Toyota Avalon: it's a sensible sedan, safe and comfortable, but it loses points on looks. In fact, while the 2010 model was busy scoring high marks for quality and safety, our own Bengt Halvorson handed it a mere 6 for styling and a 7 for performance. That kind of critical reaction might explain why Toyota has put together a new ad campaign for the Avalon that, unlike the sedan, is styled to within an inch of its life.
The campaign is centered around Toyota's new Avalon website, toyota.com/avalonclass, which features a well-dressed host and his demure, put-together assistant (who looks a little like Donna Reed, reimagined as a booth babe). With soft, lounge-y music and a navigation system designed to look like information pamphlets from the 1950s and 1960s, the site walks viewers through the Avalon, from comfort and size to technology features. There's also a bit of user-interaction, like when visitors are invited to play a tune through the Avalon's Bluetooth-equipped sound system -- which, in keeping with the site's vibe, they ought to have called a hi-fi.
The campaign also includes print ads and numerous web/TV commercials, done in the same mid-century style, including this one that compares the Avalon's cabin to that of a comfy airplane:
Now, on the one hand, we love to see automakers and their ad firms really follow through on a project. This entire campaign was art directed from tip-to-tail: they didn't miss a trick, and the end result is consistent, clean, and very, very pretty.
On the other hand, the Mad Men look is at worst played out, or at best, obvious. We get the idea that Toyota is trying to attract younger Boomers -- the sort of people who might find this aesthetic warm and fuzzy and nostalgic -- but there are other ways to do that without going hardcore retro.
The problem with retro is that viewers are always being pulled out of it. Talking about Bluetooth in a 50s-themed ad is a little jarring -- and not in a good way. Similarly, when we see the passengers in that jet clip, we can't help but think, "My, but that's an awfully racially integrated cabin for the 1950s." And then there's the question of whether the words "roomy" and "airplane cabin" even belong in the same sentence. Added together, all that means we're not paying attention to the car.
Our other issue with this campaign? As pretty as it is, that website is damn slow, even on our zippy internet connection. Skip the Sanka: feed those servers some high-octane espresso, or we're calling it splitsville.