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The Toyota Highlander – Please Don’t Fall For Its Latest Marketing Campaign

November 9, 2010 · 63 comments

in Parenting, Personal Finance

I was watching a commercial last night for the Toyota Highlander, and I wanted to scream.   The commercial features one boy who is at school, and he is embarrassed because he has has to ride home in a station wagon.  Then there is another boy in a fancy SUV that is all happy to be in his parent’s vehicle.  The commercial ends with the ‘rich’ boy saying “just because you are parents, you don’t have to be lame”.


I started seething immediately.   I know the kid is being paid to say what he says, but I want to give him a talking to!  For one thing, kids should never, ever be blamed for or praised for the wealth of their parents.   With the exception of child stars, kids have nothing to do with their parent’s wealth.  Therefore, children should not be viewed one way or the other for the clothes they wear or the car they ride in.  Of course, I realize this is just a dream of mine, and reality speaks differently.  However, why does a commercial have to reinforce this thinking?  It is one thing to state the positives of a vehicle, but to prey on the insecurities of someone that would fall for this type of advertising?  My guess is that if you purchase a car because you don’t want to be viewed as lame, then maybe you are someone that shouldn’t be sinking a bunch of money into a fancy car.  (My assumption is, if you so worried about image, it probably carries over into your house, your clothes, etc.  Perhaps you are an over spender?)   Not to mention how bad this commercial probably makes the kids feel that really do have to ride in wood-paneled station wagon.

This commercial strikes every raw nerve in my body, probably because it stands for everything I am not.  This might be bad news for my kids, but I really don’t care if I am viewed as lame for what I drive.  (Or for the rules I enforce.)  My job as a parent is to help ensure my children become happy, productive members of society, that are also financially responsible.  If my purchases and the rules I follow make me a ‘lame’ parent, then that is absolutely fine with me.  I didn’t care about popularity as a kid, and I certainly don’t care about it as an adult.

Have you seen these commercials?  I know there is more than one, I believe the other one features the brat being all proud to ride in the Toyota Highlander, compared to his friend who is in the lane next to him in an old minivan.  (Again, there is the ‘lame parent’ quote.)  I certainly hope this campaign backfires on Toyota.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Reasons November 9, 2010 at 7:11 am

I think the commerical shows poor taste too, especially with unemployment still on the somewhat high side.

I’m sure they did an analysis of the market segment that would buy a highlander, and targeted the commerical towards that segment… but I wonder if they considered the backlash for us non-highlander segment consumers and the potential damage such an elitist commerical does to their lower toyota brands?


Kris November 9, 2010 at 11:51 am

MR, I am actually shocked that they made such a senseless commercial. Do they think this will make people forget about their brake problems?


Philip November 9, 2010 at 8:29 am

Good to see a post about this. When I first saw the commercial I didn’t like it. For one all the news about bullying and this kid is going off on everybody and acts all entitled. Then bashing on other kids that don’t have the parents to get the vehicle. Plus the start of the commercial the kid is kicking back playing video games… does that make a cool kid now?


Kris November 9, 2010 at 11:52 am

Philip, yes, playing video games does make that little brat cool. Argh- I just get angry thinking about that commercial and that little kid!


Moneycone November 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

Here’s toyota’s twitter stream. http://twitter.com/TOYOTA

Let them know how you feel.

Personally I feel this was in very poor taste. Toyota makes good autos, they certainly didn’t have to stoop down to this level to drive home that point.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I will have to look into the twitter to Toyota link. I agree that it is in poor taste, especially with the way the economy is now.


Nicole November 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

They show that one on the internets during the Daily Show, so I’ve actually seen it. It reminded me of living in Los Angeles.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Nicole – maybe Toyota should only show the commercial to certain US markets. Or maybe I am an outlier and most people think that kid so cute and it is a great commercial.


Court November 15, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Where is the U.S. market for insufferable kids wearing skinny jeans promoting materialistic comparisons?

By the way, if these commercials featured an adult, rather than a child, we would think it was all satire, because that sort of snobbery is irritating. But it’s OK for a kid to promote that? Double nope.


The Biz of Life November 9, 2010 at 8:53 am

When I was a kid we walked to school uphill both ways barefoot in the snow, so I don’t understand what everyone is complaining about…… 🙂

Advertising is all about envy… making others feel envious of what is in the commercial so you have to run out and buy. They will stoop as low as they have to, but you don’t have to listen or buy into their line of thinking.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Biz – I guess it works the opposite with me because I don’t envy ‘rich’ things. I do realize that many people do though.


Roshawn @ Watson Inc November 9, 2010 at 10:31 am

I just don’t think that the marketing firm that Toyota hired to come up with this campaign factored in this response or they must not have thought that it mattered (which would be more sad). Personally, I haven’t seen the commercial and hope never to see it. I certainly don’t think many Toyota Millionaires purchased their cars because it wasn’t “lame” stylistically. Going into debt for a new car IMHO is what’s lame 🙂


Kris November 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Shawn – I am with you for sure. I am curious to see how long this campaign lasts. Maybe I am all wrong and it will be really successful.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics November 9, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Yeah I saw that commercial online. I was thinking getting into a debt for the car, spending a LOT on insurance and gas for a mini van/suv was lame. Someone should teach the kid some basic finances if he is old enough to criticize his parents on their choice of car. It is pretty ironic for Toyota to go for looks 🙂 they thrive for their lame (according to these rich types) but reliable/cheaper cars. I think they should stick to what they know best to make.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 9:51 pm

It almost seems like an act of desperation. Or maybe they are going after a different niche. Kinda like Buick trying to go after younger drivers or something.

I am so glad I have remote so I can turn the channel as soon as I see that kid.


etinca November 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

The purpose of commercials is to get people’s attention, & this one has certainly done that & garnered them additional free publicity. I’m amused that so many people are so overwrought about a.tv.ad. My only response was ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ & then I moved on with my life.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Etinca- I am glad you have moved on with your life! I guess we all have our ‘buttons’ or ‘pet peeves’, and one of mine is people using image to feel superior.

I will move on, right on by the Toyota dealership…


Crystal @ BFS November 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I just saw those commercials and told hubby “what a brat”. Bad commercials in my opinion since it turned me off their product. The Honda Odyssey has some cuter commercials that involve chocolate-covered strawberries…


Kris November 9, 2010 at 9:55 pm

BFS – I agree, that kid just screams ‘brat’ to me too. I just don’t know what market niche would think ‘what a cute kid. I need to impress all little tweens and buy an expensive vehicle’.

Chocolate covered strawberries would intrigue me more, but I just can’t buy foreign no matter what the incentive…


thisisbeth November 9, 2010 at 7:13 pm

If I were ever a parent, I’d revel in being called lame. Sure, I’d love to be the parents every kid loves, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of being a parent.

As a kid, I always wanted to fit in (due to various reasons, I was different enough as it was), so I can identify with the kid a little bit…because yeah, my parents were the lame parents. On the other hand, I’m currently driving a 9-year-old car and have no intentions of getting a new one until this one quits working. So, my lame parents did teach me a thing or two, against my wishes…


Kris November 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Beth – you were learning and didn’t even know it- and that is kinda my point. Kids learn from their parents, and parents that just worry about image create kids that just worry about image. You gotta have confidence in yourself and not get it from what you drive or what you wear. That is what parents need to teach, at the expense of being ‘lame’.


Kris November 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Sienna, you said it perfectly!


Evan November 9, 2010 at 10:15 pm

This stuff doesn’t bother me and actually I don’t think it is all that bad to be honest. This is literally nothing different than when Mercedes tells me I am not successful without that new bad ass E-Class.

I’d rather be lame than unsuccessful lol but maybe that is an Evan issue


Kris November 10, 2010 at 10:56 am

Evan, I think what bothered me is what it teaches kids more than anything. From what I know about Mercedes commercials, they tend to appeal to adults. In my mind, this commercial tries to teach kids that they should worry about the image portrayed by their parents vehicle.


Tim @ Faith and Finance November 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I can’t stand the message they’re putting out there. It’s basically saying you’re lame if you don’t buy the newest and best things…a great reflection of what people perceive to be as wealth today – how much stuff you own. NOT


Kris November 10, 2010 at 10:55 am

Tim, what is sad is they are probably trying to appeal to what they view as the majority of Americans. I guess I am just not in the majority, but I am just fine with that.


Evan November 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

Then the commercial even makes less sense to me, and makes me care even less about it and makes me think it is even less of a big deal.

What the hell are they doing marketing a car to Kids? It is just a stupid business move (not moral or ethical one).
– The kid isn’t going to buy the car.
– The parent isn’t going to buy the car just because a kid thinks they are lame, hell MOST of the time a kid is going to think their parent is lame.
– There are a lot more commericals that tell children they are uncool if they don’t buy X to worry about

But maybe it is just because I am insensitive punk lol


Kris November 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Well, I think it is aimed at both. It tells kids you will be cooler if you ride in a cool car and you can then look down on others. It tells parents that you are lame and your kids will be embarrassed if you don’t drive a cool car. I hate it all.

You can still be an insensitive punk if you want though. 🙂


Khaleef @ KNS Financial November 10, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Fortunately, we don’t have television service, so we are spared from commercials! However, I’m upset by just reading your description!

I can’t believe that they would seek to make people feel bad and inadequate simply because they aren’t able to afford a new vehicle. What’s worse is that they are preying on children to increase the pressure!


Kris November 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Be glad you don’t have to see this. (Unless you look for it on youtube). I wonder if it will fade. It reminds of the the commercial for designer diapers that was out in the spring. That ad did not last long at all. I don’t know if designer diapers are still around, but the marketing campaign must have been a flop.


First Gen American November 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I don’t know if I would rate the commercial a success or flop. It certainly has got people talking.

It’s sad that kids make assumptions about the quality of your family based on their possessions. I can’t believe Toyota would try to capitalize on the shallow when many of their customer base is the value buyer. I’ve had 2 Toyotas and they are very practical. You think they’re trying to expand the customer base to non-practical impulse buyers?


Kris November 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I wonder if Toyota is trying to create a campaign that would make people forget about their brake problems? Fight fire with fire maybe?


I Agree November 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I googled “Toyota Highlander brat” after watching that commercial and found your blog. I agree with you, what an obnoxious ad. Just think, they’re hoping adults will be so insecure and needy of their snotty, materialistic “cool” kids’ approval that they’ll buy this big-arse SUV. Maybe some newly minted adult who sees himself as a cool kid came up with this clunker.


Dan M., Ph.D. January 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

I just Googled “Toyota Highlander brat” and the first result was your post, “I googled ‘Toyota Highlander Brat’…!”

Every sentiment I feel has already been posted by someone else, except that the commercials make me want a Buick Roadmaster station wagon (historically significant for being the last big American wagons along with the Chevy Caprice and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser).

(I already have a Dodge Caravan and an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. I think they’re cool!)


Kris January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I just saw the Toyota Highlander Brat again this morning in a new commercial (for Toyota).

I agree, it totally makes me want to buy a different vehicle. (I always buy American anyway though.)

You just made me remember our old station wagons from when I grew up that had the seat that faced backward.


Derek Link November 13, 2010 at 1:27 am

I agree with the comments here. These Toyota commercials undermine families and our values as a society. It’s disgusting. I’ve created a web site and an online petition to force Toyota to pull the ads. Please sign the petition!


BeatingTheIndex November 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Toyota really missed their mark with this ad, come on what are they thinking! It would have been half as bad if we were in a booming economy. I guess a lot of shallow customers will be buying that SUV.


Kris November 13, 2010 at 10:10 pm

BTI- I have not seen the commercial lately, but maybe I haven’t been watching the right shows. I can only hope they pulled the ads, but they are probably working on a 3rd installment instead.


Marie November 15, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Did anyone notice that the station wagon is an American car? When unemployment is so high? The ad insults all Americans.


Kris January 12, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I noticed the same thing Marie! It is so very insulting. I live near Detroit, so I figured it probably bothered me more than most. Maybe I am wrong!

I don’t know anyone that likes these commercials. I hope they stop soon, but I doubt it


Margie November 20, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I find the Toyota Highlander add featuring a insolent male child telling the public that “just because you are parents you don’t have to be lame” disgusting, disrespectful, arrogant and the wrong verbage to be teaching values to American children. Even if I were looking for a new car I would NEVER buy a Toyota again (have had three) if this is newest example of their pushy, smarter-than-you attitude to our families and nation. Any of my children who spoke to another person with that snobbish, superior attitude would have found found themselves in deep trouble .. and heaven forbid it was their parents!! Ben Franklin said it best: “Children should be seen and not heard” .. under most circumstances.


Kris November 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Margie, I just saw the commercial again yesterday, and I had hoped the pulled the darn things.

I will never buy a Toyota either, but I just won’t buy foreign cars period.

I hope this backlashes on Toyota.


Ugly American November 23, 2010 at 11:02 pm

What they don’t show you is the one family now has to live in their new SUV because they couldn’t make their McMansion payment.

The family that drives the old station wagon probably owns a couple of fourplexes now with all the money they saved by not buying a new 4 door wealth destruction/oil terrorist funding machine.


Kris November 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more Ugly American. Although it is possible we are bailing that family out as we speak as they are underwater on their mortgage and running away from it.


Ray November 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I’m feeling angry enough to create my own mash-up of a Toyota Highlander commmercial statirizing and commenting on issues of class, and cultural values.

I hope to pull it off.


Kris November 26, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Ray, good luck with your quest. Send me a Youtube link when it is done and I will write a post about it.


gevirs January 7, 2011 at 3:09 am

I just wrote the company a letter telling them how deplorable this ad campaign is. I mentioned the fact that I thought it was more than insensitive being that they had to recall over 2.3 million vehicles last year after a family of four died due to a manufacturing defect. I also stated that I have three teenagers that are about to start driving and I wouldn’t be buying them a Highlander. Isn’t society and it’s need for status hard enough on kids today without having to be called “lame” or be embarrassed because their family doesn’t drive a shiny new Highlander. Also, isn’t it better to have a family sing-a-long than have your kid in the back with headphones and his face stuck in a tv screen?


Kris January 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I could not agree more, and I love that you wrote a letter. That commercial teaches every lesson I am trying NOT to instill in my kids.

Did you get a reply? If you do, please come back and let us know.

Maybe if the focus is to be the coolest parent, you don’t mind if you don’t talk to your kid at all. You are just happy they like you!


Deborah January 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Kris, I never ever do this but I am so angry and incensed about the Toyota ad’s with the smart ass little rich kid in the leather jacket that I started poking around on the web to see if I could find like mined people. I hope word gets out to these morons that your children do not buy the car nor should they. This is what is wrong with country and this next generation of children are going to be so depressed when they grow up and discover that life is not a commercial. Good work and keep it up.


Kris January 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Deborah, I couldn’t agree with you more. Unfortunately, I have been seeing the ads more and more. I make my kids watch it with me and I explain all the reasons the commercial is wrong. I have no idea if they are listening or not, but at least I feel like I am doing something!

Arghhhh, now I am angry again from thinking about it.

Thanks for commenting!!


Bob January 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Everyone here needs to relax.


Kris January 13, 2011 at 8:01 am

That’s what I was doing! I was relaxing, watching TV, and then I had to look at this obnoxious commercial that promotes materialism and a whole host of other things! 🙂


Toyota Cars September 26, 2011 at 1:32 am

I think Toyota is too good at marketing.


Kris September 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I don’t. I find their commercials offensive.


mdxsde December 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

AWD was adequete for my wife this winter without winter tires.


cgw June 6, 2022 at 11:17 am

I just saw the one with the child who had bad breath and the parent used the seat change to move away from her….WHAT???? WHO IS WRITING THESE STUPID THINGS? I wouldn’t consider a toyota based on these idiot ads alone


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