Toyota’s Del Aguila: Brands Are In The Media Business

When Toyota wanted to develop an online community of Tacoma owners, targeted advertising was passed over for creating branded content, Ernesto Del Aguila told the audience at JD Power.

For all the talk of data-driven communications being the sine qua non of digital advertising, sometimes it pays to experiment and figure out the metrics later.

That’s a tough sell, Ernesto del Aguila, senior marketing analyst at Toyota Motor Sales USA, acknowledged following a panel discussion at the JD Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable. And while he added that a global entity as large, as widely recognized as Toyota can take such leaps, it also faces very little choice.

The mainstreaming of social media and real-time advertising and analytics has forced brands to give up the control and structure of traditional paid media buying, planning, and creating. To be sure, the traditional methods are as essential as ever for a brand like Toyota, del Aguila said.

But branded content, in Toyota’s case, was meant to augment the standard advertising playbook by opening up new areas of interactive and social media, added del Aguila, who previously worked at Nestlé USA in on its Coffee-Mate unit.

About a year ago, Toyota began partnering with on building an online forum for owners of its Tacoma pickup truck, just as the model was getting a new look for the first time in a decade.

Rather than trying to overtly reach auto-intenders, focusing on existing Tacoma buyers would seem counterintuitive. But the existing car owners not only can serve as a brand’s greatest word-of-mouth ambassador, they can also be its biggest threat if anything goes wrong.

Plus, because car owners tend to tie their identity to their cars, it made sense to give those Tacoma fans a place to express and amplify their voices.

Toyota Motors USA's Ernesto Del Aguila on stage at JD Power's Automotive Marketing Roundtable.
Toyota Motors USA’s Ernesto Del Aguila on stage at JD Power’s Automotive Marketing Roundtable.

GeoMarketing: Toyota and its models are global. How do you handle the challenge of taking a global brand message to the local level?

Ernesto Del Aguila: It’s a very interesting question. One thing that I’ve learned about the automotive category prior to Toyota happened when I was in the consumer packaged goods space. Even though these two categories, the food category and also automotive category, are worlds apart, they’re very similar in terms of “We do a very good job on the pre-retail side.” What I mean is that even before a consumer even considers what they want to purchase, the idea of certain brand names are always there at the forefront.

It’s all about trying to get people into stores or into dealerships, about trying to experience the product, feel the sense of brand affinity whether it’s a store shelf for a packaged goods product or a car at the dealership.

That’s what makes the Talking Tacos content marketing program for the Toyota Tacoma truck so interesting. You were essentially doing the opposite of a traditional branding campaign.

Right. This was more intended for owners and loyalists. We were aiming this program at someone who either owns a Tacoma, or who has owned a Tacoma in the past and still has that sense of affinity. We’ve been the category leader for mid-size pickup the past 10 years.

It served as a tactic specifically for owners. The goal was to find ways to engage Tacoma owners after their purchase. There’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of brands both within and outside the automotive category to continue the relationship with the consumer after the point of purchase.

What’s the point?

The point is that you can’t forget about the consumer once they’ve made a purchase. While a car is not bought as frequently as a CPG product, obviously, you know that 1) down the road, that person will be looking to buy a new car; and 2) owners are the best salespeople and brand evangelizers. To the second point, it’s important to realize that your past customer is most important when it comes to influencing future purchases.

But the main purpose was to showcase the things that a lot of owners didn’t even know a Tacoma could do. It was an all-new model — the last generation was 10 years ago.

The ultimate goal was to show them something new. It was all about surprise and delight and then driving home the idea that the Tacoma represents quality, durability, reliability. We wanted to make sure people knew the Tacoma could go off-road and that it could climb up mountain full of rocks, and it can go down a mountain full of rocks.

The bottom line: Tacoma for us is a very much lifestyle brand. And we wanted to make sure that idea stuck.

The idea of brand identity is difficult to measure versus the metrics associated with an actual sale resulting from a campaign. How did you determine this worked?

We’re still currently online and the content continues to live on and attract views. As I mentioned during my presentation it wasn’t about specific metrics.

Look, we always want to control things, we always to meet this KPI, and so forth. With this program, we had to not only trust our product, we also had to trust our partner which was And it was not only in the development of the content, but also the editorial process as well.

When getting that content out to those owners, how did you do that? Did you do it through geotargeting? Was it through sales records of known buyers?

Honestly, it was mainly through word-of-mouth. It was something that we trusted in being able to reach those owners. These are owner forums and those guys love their trucks so much, they like to talk about them all the time.

It really grew organically. We didn’t do any type of push, any type of advertising, it just kind of lived on itself. That’s mainly the reason why it didn’t get more than 80,000 hits.

Again, we weren’t in this for mass reach or hits. We wanted to connect with a niche group on their own terms.

You’re not in it for that, you’re basically there to provide the content that excites, that talks about specifically about the brand by demonstrating what it actually does. It’s all about capturing those authentic moments, and I think that that’s something as an OEM, I think that that something we traditionally view adverting taking a certain roll but I think with this branded content it’s just kind of a separate complete different rule, a completely different world for us. We just had to trust that our product spoke for itself and we chose the right channel.

As you indicated, this content marketing program was intended to be special, unique. But how does that influence your approach to other programs in the future? What did Toyota learn?

Moving forward, we will definitely explore more of the avenues associated with branded content. At the end of the day, we realize that this is where brands are going — not only within the automotive category, but all brands. We talked about the CPG marketer Mondelez during the panel. While they sell Oreos, they also realize they’re a media company. Of course, they also put a ton data behind it as well. But I think creating that content that can speak directly to a consumer about how a product fits within a consumer’s daily life is the essential ingredient. The focus has to start by asking what are the benefits and what’s a consumer’s passion for the product. That’s where marketing is going to be moving into and the data, the targeting, and all the other things we associate with marketing these days will follow that lead.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.