Social Media and the Yaris Campaign

Tim Burrows has written up an account of the Toyota Yaris ad affair. The ad itself. Tim’s account follows the timeline of what happened and outlines it with a kind of decision-tree logic that makes it exciting and dramatic as we get to find out how this epic fail was distributed across a number of decisions. This is a far more productive way to account for failure than a juridical mode, which simply seeks to attribute blame (or minimize it) because these complex interactions across a number of actors in the affair (various ad people, agency people, Toyota people, etc) all contributed to the end result.

I posted a comment in response to another commenter, Schaden Freude, who ironically expressed caution about being too critical of the advertising campaign behind the Yaris affair. It annoyed me because it expressed a naïve position that social media was something that everyone has ‘experienced’ but was still trying to figure out. This is nonsense. My original comment:

Nonsense. Using social media is not some big experiment where the outcome is an enigmatic divination of public will and/or stupidity. ‘Experience’ in/with social media is not what is required. What is required is a critical understanding of the specific function of deploying the various ’social media’ tools as part of a well thought-out PR strategy and highly tactical management of these tools as a campaign unfolds.

Brands go viral in a media ecology, ’social media’ is a collective term to describe very different tools to manage the circulation of this brand in the ecology. Without the very active, hands-on tactical management of the virus-brand you simply have a bunch of people ticking boxes for a PR campaign recipe about what social media options they think are a good idea.

Think tending to a brand garden and not baking a brand cake.

Another commenter, sven, asked me to explain what I am talking about, which is fair enough with my mixing of metaphors and hastily-assembled text. (I am busy at work, now doing freelance!!) I don’t really care about the ad. My point is not about the lack of taste or the efficacy of shock-values in viral marketing. My point is about the lazy use of social media. Social media is not an ends, it is a means. (EDIT: Or here for a timely post by Neil Perkin.) What do you with social media? You can:

1) Host the conversation. Discussion about something between interested parties.
2) Extend the event. Off-line reality can be extended online, like friendship networks mapped on facebook, but more specific, so this night out discussed with the actual people that were there (or who would’ve liked to have been there). It gives the discussion an affective glue through an assumed shared sense of purpose.
3) Cultivate enthusiasm. Cultivate, yeah? Like a garden… Social networks online and off-line organise around people’s interests. When you use social media you want to tap into social networks. So you need to understand these interests or the stronger version of interest, enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a force, it is a resource, and what I wrote my PhD about.

There is little point using it for anything else when current techniques will suffice. Social media is used because the ‘media’ bit serves as part of the infrastructure of the ‘social’ bit.

So if the enthusiasm of people is a resource and harnessing it is contingent on extending their social events by providing the infrastructure for ‘discussion’ (in the broadest sense, sharing stuff, etc), then Toyota’s campaigner strategy should have been to:
1) Target the specific enthusiasms pertaining to the demographics of the market segment they were trying to capture.
2) Then target the specific social media platforms and niche groups of this enthusiasm/interest. Simply setting up a group on Facebook group is like walking into a newsagent and blindly choosing a magazine within which to run advertising. There is myriad number of possible ways to connect with the market segment.
3) Help encourage the rituals of sharing belonging to the cultural formations organised around these enthusiasms and other kinds of activity (producing, distributing, circulation of knowledge, etc.).

Why didn’t they target a niche social group where there is a crossover between rudimentary video production skills and a partial interest in the car? And if they don’t have the production skills? Why not set-up your own website with short video tutorials on how to make videos? Provide a resource that will catch people’s interest in the social media infrastructure of your own making. You could run two competitions. With the other being awarded to the best video about making videos. How many people would want to watch those? Have a forum where people can swap tips about video production, etc. Provide the resources to sow the interest and then cultivate the enthusiasm. Didn’t they already do this with a music DJ/mixing site where you could make your own tunes?

The Yaris campaign management did the complete opposite of this process of cultivation. Instead they ‘did’ social media by assembling all the ingredients assumed to be correct, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, without actually understanding the ‘social’ bit of ‘social media’. The use of ‘social media’ was completely ineffective.

5 thoughts on “Social Media and the Yaris Campaign”

  1. I also wrote about this campaign. I talked about the way the news cycle (including Tim Burrowes) turned it from a concept into a ‘controversy’ and then focused on the ethics of harnessing enthusiasm for such temporary, short-sighted goals, then discarding the enthusiasts. I talked about the users’ ‘good faith’ and the advertisers’ ‘bad faith’.

  2. I like your take, mel!

    Providing space for a community and maintaining the resources of the community seems to be the only way that advertisers can maintain a relation of ‘good faith’ to enthusiasts.

  3. Agree, think the whole point was missed! If I’d ever consider buying a Yaris, I’d go online seeking some authentic discussion on pros / cons with the idea that I’ll be making a more “informed” decision. This is where companies could really leverage social media.

    These potential consumers would be avoiding anything that smells like an ad or a cleverly disguised ad because they want a “real” recommendation. But now a Yaris search brings up a shitload more irrelevant stuff to shift through – making it go straight to the “too hard” basket!

    A lot of people would probably just go buy a Barina…

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