Robrt L. Pela

As the estómago turns

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Talk about product placement. In an ongoing crusade to raise its profile among Latinos, Toyota has launched the latest in a series of television-centric campaigns aimed at the Spanish-speaking market.

The auto manufacturer has hooked its stationwagon – and every other body style – to the stars of NBC Universal-owned, Spanish-language network Telemundo. The partnership is focused on Telemundo’s popular telenovela Los Herederos del Monte, where Toyota has expanded its two-year-old Somos Muchos campaign.

Somos Muchos began with a Facebook-focused effort two years ago, offering Toyota drivers a custom-made, free decal proclaiming pride in their heritage and their choice in automobiles. Hundreds of versions of the stickers were offered, each reflecting a different Latin American country and city of origin.

But stickers, apparently, aren’t enough. Now Toyota has moved its cars and trucks into Telemundo’s soap operas – literally. The campaign kicked into high gear a few months ago with a weekly 15-second spot that aped the closing credits of a telenovela. Instead of credits for best boys and second assistant grips, the faux scroll listed instead the names of fans who’d signed up for the privilege at telemundo.com. Behind these fake credits, actors interact with a Toyota product, fondling a chassis or driving a Camry into and out of scenes involving adultery and hunky shirtlessness.

Product placement isn’t new to the entertainment biz. Film star Joan Crawford popularized it in the early ‘60s when, as vice president of a soft-drink company, she made sure that a bottle of Pepsi appeared on screen in each of her movies. But Telemundo’s new campaign has lately been spiraling out of control; a perfect accompaniment, some say, to the tension and scripted treachery of a sudsy telenovela. Others cringed at the oddly Orwellian twist in the Toyota campaign, which found actors pausing in the act of an evil telenovela deed – bedding someone’s spouse or poisoning another character’s menudo – to stare straight into the camera while a Toyota logo dances across the screen, alongside the legend, “Somos Muchos Latinos watching the novela. Watch out!

How long, one wonders, before these treacherous telenovela characters are stealing one another’s Toyotas – or taking jobs managing Toyota lots? Tune in tomorrow to find out.  

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