In its 37-year history only one Japanese car had ever won the
prestigious European Car of the Year award. In January 1998 Toyota hired
CPN to run a campaign to make its new supermini Yaris - at that time no
more than a concept - a winner within two years.
Toyota is the third largest car manufacturer in the world, but it has
not enjoyed the same sales success in Europe as in other markets. Yaris,
which was designed in Europe, represented a vital entry-level model for
the company in one of Europe’s most fiercely contested markets.
This year Yaris was one of 27 new models eligible for the title, which
is voted on by 56 senior motoring journalists from 21 countries in
To win European Car of the Year, regarded by Toyota as a key factor in
its ambition to increase its share of the European market to five per
cent by 2005.
Strategy and Plan
With only a concept car to work on, CPN began its campaign by conducting
extensive research into the European Car of the Year award to find out
as much as possible about the whys and wherefores of the award. This
involved desk research and liaising with Toyota PR managers across
Armed with this research, CPN launched a campaign aimed at positioning
Yaris as a ’European car with Japanese engineering values’. The
perception in Europe was that Toyotas were worthy, but dull and perhaps
lacking in European styling. The line ’designed by Europeans for Europe’
thus became the main focus in media briefings.
CPN set up the Yaris Media Group targeting key media across Europe. This
extended way beyond the Car of the Year judges because it was felt that
other media were equally influential and it was important not to
alienate them. Late in 1998 Toyota took the unusual step of allowing
journalists to drive Yaris prototypes in Brussels. This was repeated in
Seville in February 1999. In the spring a special Yaris design event was
held in Brussels which enabled key aspects of the design of the car to
CPN also provided press office support at all the key European motor
The key event in the campaign was a week-long media trip to Japan in
July attended by 40 journalists. This gave them the opportunity to
interview the chief engineer for Yaris and to visit the factory where
the car is made. Getting so many journalists to give up so much of their
time was regarded as a major coup.
CPN was able to build on two other timely events in the run up to the
awards. In early summer Channel 4’s motoring programme Driven made Yaris
its car of the year, while in October Autocar did a survey of the
world’s top 100 cars and awarded Yaris first place.
CPN decided not to do any more PR work between shortlisting and the
announcement of the award because it was felt this could do as much harm
Measurement and Evaluation
CPN’s in-house evaluation of the campaign reveals core campaign messages
were widely taken up. The general press picked up on the key message
about European styling, while business media also emphasised the
importance of Yaris to Toyota’s plans to gain market share in Europe.
The FT ran the headline ’Toyota’s stylish Yaris shows how the West could
Winning European Car of the Year on 16 November meant the ultimate
accolade for the campaign. Toyota’s market share in Europe has also
risen from 1.6 per cent in March to 3.6 per cent.
As a non-European car, Yaris was regarded by many as a rank outsider in
the battle for European Car of the Year. A thoroughly planned and
carefully orchestrated campaign meant that CPN was able to achieve what
appears to be a major change in perception among the media, including
the key award judges. Emphasising the design, allowing early access to
the car and arranging an intensive trip to Japan were the major elements
that led to success.
Client: Toyota Motor Europe
PR Team: Countrywide Porter Novelli
Campaign: Winning European Car of the Year for Toyota
Timescale: Jan’98 - Nov ’99
Budget: circa pounds 650,000