David Blecken
Jun 14, 2016

Toyota mixes technology with subtle social commentary

A film for Toyota for the Japanese market presents a vision of the future not just in terms of technology, but also the country’s social makeup.

Toyota mixes technology with subtle social commentary

Under the banner of ‘What Wows You’, the spot is set in an indefinite time in the future and features an elderly man behind the wheel of a self-driving car. Thinking his driving days were over, the man is liberated by Toyota’s technology to enjoy the open road once again.

A voiceover explains that Toyota’s aim is to enable everyone to experience the pleasure of driving—or at least, being driven. Technology is shown to transcend boundaries such as language, history and environment.

That’s all very nice, but as Jalopnik, an automotive website, notes, perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that is shows the man to be somehow connected to a mixed-race family—something still rarely seen in Japanese advertising.

The casting draws attention to the “changing face of Japan”, Jalopnik said, by normalising families that are not purely Japanese. Are they reading too much into it? It might seem like a small detail, but it’s significant in a country that has traditionally tended to emphasise the homogeneity of its population.

It’s also significant that a brand as big as Toyota would want to make such a statement, and a reminder of the role brands have in reflecting and sometimes supporting social change. As Japan’s population shrinks and the country relaxes its immigration policies, people of different ethnic backgrounds are indeed likely to become more embedded in society.

At the same time, such moves can expose a brand to criticism. As Honey Maid’s ‘This is Wholesome’ campaign, which featured a selection of nontraditional families, showed two years ago, not everyone is ready to embrace diversity—even in a country that touts its ‘inclusiveness’ as much as the US does.

Campaign’s view: Toyota’s efforts to build emotion and social observation into its messaging are indicative of a company that values branding as much as its products. From a viewer perspective, it adds an element of interest beyond the generic ‘open road’ shots we are so bored of seeing in automotive advertising.

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