Retail: Man on a mission – David Brimson, Toyota Canada’s national manager, PR and advertising

He's a man on a mission. A two-year mission, to be precise.

He’s a man on a mission. A two-year mission, to be precise.

And, it hasn’t taken David Brimson long to make his mark. Just a year into being deployed from Britain to serve a two-year stint as Toyota Canada’s national manager, PR and advertising, he’s already caused a stir as the marketing brains behind the über successful, category-challenging Yaris launch, which introduced ‘Uncle Yaris,’ a mascot of sorts, to embody the car’s European identity. He also spearheaded a rebranding campaign for Lexus, which has impressed Toyota’s top brass. ‘A senior executive from Japan said it’s the best articulation of the global strategy he’s seen,’ says Brimson.

But it’s been no easy task. Especially selling the zany Yaris campaign internally. (It was developed by Toronto-based Saatchi & Saatchi (Toyota’s AOR for cars; Toronto-based Dentsu handles trucks and Lexus). ‘It was a challenging concept for people to understand…we had to have a strong presentation, and explain it very clearly,’ Brimson recalls, adding that the dealers were especially resistant. ‘We told them: ‘This isn’t aimed at you.” But, even though a lot of them didn’t get the whole Yaris concept, they have grown to trust that Brimson knows what he’s doing.

And even if they remained skeptical, they must have converted to believers when the results started rolling in: The microsite yaris.ca received 75,000 hits within the first 10 days of launching, and, as of press time, 22,000 visitors had signed up to receive more info. And, Yaris, which replaced the Echo, was October’s subcompact market leader, even though its mid-October launch meant it was only available for half of the month. ‘It was nerve-racking,’ recalls Brimson. ‘It was such an important launch.’

The risky campaign, which aimed to generate name awareness and make the car appealing to men, has certainly paid off for the bottom line as well: the rapid Yaris sales contributed to Toyota achieving a 12.8% market share in October, an all-time record. And, Toyota total sales in that month were up 6.5% in a market down 3.8%.

While the Yaris campaign was certainly offbeat, Brimson made sure it was firmly in line with Toyota’s global strategy to be more emotionally appealing: it couldn’t just be zany for the sake of being zany. ‘Some of the [agency's] ideas never got past me,’ he recalls. But, with his detailed feedback, Saatchi was able to come up with the Uncle Yaris concept, which was both quirky and on strategy. ‘He sees the big picture, and he communicates his vision well to us,’ says Brett Channer, Saatchi’s CEO/ECD.

Glen Hunt, creative catalyst at Dentsu, agrees: ‘He gave us an incredibly in-depth brief when he had us re-pitch the business,’ he says, referring to the agency review Brimson undertook in spring for the Lexus brand. ‘We were asked to find a new definition for luxury.’ The campaign depicts luxury as having the most perfect moments as opposed to the most stuff, and positions Lexus as the brand to help you achieve those moments.

It’s all in line with the global strategy to be the world’s number-one-selling luxury car by 2010, and Brimson is so pleased with the positioning that he’s been encouraging his counterparts around the world to adopt it, too. ‘He’s really championed this strategy globally,’ Hunt adds. ‘He’s a bit of a crusader because he believes he’s got the answer.’ And Brimson may have a point: The October launch of the Lexus IS series helped the brand achieve a record October and record year to date sales, up 16% from 2004.

Brimson’s primary task when he arrived was a bit less high-profile – to impart some of the direct marketing wisdom he honed at Toyota U.K. He developed the first Canadian database marketing strategy, which involved customer and prospect relationship strategies, building an internal team, budgeting, and working with an external specialist agency, Toronto-based Bimm Communications. 

The first test for the new strategy was the November 2004 launch of the Tacoma pickup truck: So far, over 5,000 sales have been tracked to the launch mailings. It has since been woven into most of Toyota Canada’s tactical campaigns.

‘David has helped us with our database marketing and direct mail…that was a bit of a weak point here,’ says boss Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada’s VP sales and marketing.

Brimson’s next assignment will be at the Toyota Europe HQ in Brussels next year, where he’ll have a chance to share some pointers from Canada, like how to have a strong relationship with dealers. ‘Exchange of management is something Toyota believes in,’ he explains. ‘I’m pleased we’ve been able to do some interesting campaigns. I feel like I’ve had some impact.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase:

My three-year-old daughter believes that she controls my buying behaviour…so, Toys R Us and Barbie.

Favourite vacation spot:

Nocivelli, near Parma, Italy. My

in-laws are Anglo-Italian, and I love the food, drink and peace.

First job:

Saturday job at Woolworth’s. I

got fired.

Greatest strength:

Umm, lots of weaknesses come to mind. So, relative to these, possibly creativity, strategic thinking and a sense of humour…

Favourite way to unwind:

Quality time with friends…ideally near a wine cellar.