Screencap from 'Frenemies', a miniseries sponsored by the Toyota Sienna
The Toyota Sienna minivan has proven popular with consumers, and Toyota has deployed a number of ad campaigns to sell it. The latest -- "Mommy Like, Daddy Like" -- has been a mixed bag: some of the creative has been well-executed and engaging, while other elements seemed...well, a little lazy. Now, Toyota has launched a new part of that campaign: Frenemies, a short-form video series hosted at MSN.com. And although we like the Sienna a lot, we can't say that we're feeling friendly toward Frenemies.
The series centers on a new arrival in suburbia -- a mousy, not-so-hip mom with the appropriately humdrum name, Lori Logan. By sheer coincidence, Lori grew up in this particular 'burb before ditching it for the bright lights of the big city, and also by sheer coincidence, she soon runs into her old high school nemesis, the WASPily named Joy Hardwick-Atherton (played by Joey Lauren Adams from Chasing Amy). Joy is everything that Lori isn't: blonde, vivacious, seductive, and very, very controlling. PTA meetings and hijinks ensue.
Correction: hijinks should ensue. Unfortunately, the steering on Frenemies is a little loose, and it doesn't go exactly where we want it to. We've spotted three major potholes:
First, the writing is weak. Yes, Adams is a joy to watch, but she can't save a watery sitcom script that's unfit even for CBS. In its execution, Frenemies is the impostor fragrance of Desperate Housewives, and it reeks more-or-less appropriately.
Second, it's on MSN.com, which, like many Microsoft products, is pushy and annoying. We tend to delete all references to MSN when we get new laptops, and we avoid MSN.com like the plague. The site's U.S. traffic has dipped dramatically over the past few years, from around 130,000,000 monthly visitors in 2007 to less than 90 million today (hitting a low point of 40 million last year). True, 90 million monthly visitors is nothing to sneeze at, but only about 36% of them have children -- and we have to believe that the Sienna is pretty squarely targeted at parents. Perhaps their media buyer knows something we don't.
Third -- and by far, worst of all -- the Frenemies video clips aren't embeddable. Fledgling filmmakers have learned the benefits of sharing, as have musicians and even record labels. (Well, some, but not all.) Why advertisers haven't figured that out, too, is beyond us. If you want something to go viral -- as Toyota and its agency, Science + Fiction, clearly do -- it stands to reason that you have to make it viewable and shareable by the largest number of people. Technically, yes, you can share Frenemies on Facebook and Twitter, but only as links.* Embedding is immediate and engaging; to disable that is just plain short-sighted.
Brandweek reports that Toyota may put the series on YouTube and/or Hulu -- presumably if the pageviews don't hit their goals on MSN. That would solve two of our three complaints right off the bat. Not that anyone's asking.
* We couldn't even do that because the Facebook** share function kept failing on us.
** Speaking of Facebook, Brandweek says that there's a Facebook app for the series, but of the nine apps that popped up during a search for Frenemies, none had anything to do with the Sienna. What gives?