Fashion! Espionage! Midsize sedans!

Toyota's curious advertising campaign to lure black women.

Topics: Advertising, Broadsheet, Toyota, Love and Sex,

I’m a white woman who doesn’t need to be asked twice to buy a Toyota (I’ve happily owned two Corollas), so maybe I’m not supposed to get it, but the car company’s new campaign to attract female African-American buyers strikes me as rather curious. Toyota will spend $5 million on print, radio and online advertising intended to drive professional black women to a Web site,, where they can play an interactive game involving, fashion, espionage and a fully loaded Camry. Of course.

“In the game, which makes its debut today, Bianca, a good-looking assistant designer at an urban fashion house, finds herself — and her new 2009 Camry — enmeshed in a world of espionage … Naturally, Bianca’s unwitting involvement in spy tradecraft will be assisted by Camry’s onboard Bluetooth, navigation and push-button ignition system, all features that will be ‘seamlessly integrated’ into the content,” said Susan Bonds, president of 42 Entertainment, which created the game. (My favorite comment at Gawker: “They should be careful. Last time black women, espionage and fashion collided, Grace Jones tried to beat the crap out of Roger Moore.”)

Now, there are definitely some things to like about this campaign. The interactivity is nifty in theory, and it’s cool to see a major corporation recognizing that professional African-American women (who have historically had almost zero interest in Toyotas) are a demographic worth courting. As Monica Warden, account director for the company that handles Toyota’s advertising to the African-American market, says, “When you think that someone actually cares enough to make their product relevant to you, it can change your mind.” But, having played the game for about 10 minutes, I’m stumped as to how it makes the Camry relevant to black women between 25 and 40 who make at least $70,000 a year. Game play involves watching lengthy videos of Bianca working, hanging out with her hot boyfriend and talking to her nana on the phone, after which you’re asked to “help” her with a spy task — by clicking on some incredibly obvious clue. That takes two seconds, and then you sit through the next lengthy video. Yawn.

If the goal is to get 9-year-old girls to tell their moms to buy Camrys, Toyota might have something here — I could maybe see preteens getting into the story of Bianca and her high-fashion job and that hot boyfriend. But I really can’t see a 35-year-old professional becoming addicted to this game — or even playing it for as long as I did. And I didn’t even get as far as using the onboard navigation.

Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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