Opinion: Toyota’s Highlander commercials don’t take the high road



James Sherman

There has to be one, right? It just so happens the worst commercial in the world isn’t one particular commercial, but a series of commercials from Toyota. If you have watched a fraction of the amount of television I have over the past three weeks, you have probably seen one. The ads are for Toyota’s 2011 Highlander sport utility vehicle.

The ads feature a little boy of an indeterminable age with unkempt blonde curls explaining how his once-lame parents have become cool after spending roughly $30,000 on a glorified Japanese station wagon. I don’t think this boy has a name, so I have taken the liberty of naming him Flynn. Now, Flynn’s friends’ parents are lame. They drive a Ford Taurus, one of the many models of automobiles that have somehow infested our streets, despite not having a DVD-supported back seat entertainment apparatus. “He needs a Highlander,” Flynn says with disgust after rolling up his window to further demonstrate his superiority over his (now, assumingly, former) friend.

And that’s the theme of these advertisements. You and your parents are not cool unless you have this car. Of course, this is the basis for all ads: our thing is better than their thing. But good ads make you forget that you’re watching an ad and that you are blatantly being sold something. Instead, we have an unlikable floppy-haired kid telling us how to be cool. These Toyota ads make you hate yourself for ever buying anything nice at all.

What’s the angle here? What’s the appeal? If movie clichés have taught me anything (and they haven’t), it’s that multi-national corporations like Toyota have a big headquarters somewhere with about 14 middle-aged, overweight, balding men sitting around a table pitching ideas that will “put Toyota back on the map!” Let’s try to guilt trip America into buying our automobile by using this bratty kid. Is this the best thing their collective brains could come up with?

Is this commercial supposed to appeal to kids? No, that doesn’t make any sense. Kids don’t have any say in what car their parents drive. Even the spoiled kids you see on MTV that somehow swindle their parents into spending $15,000 to have Joey Fatone perform at their 16th birthday party don’t have this power.

Is this commercial supposed to appeal to adults with kids who are concerned that their offspring may be ridiculed because they didn’t shell out the extra coin on a vehicle that entertains them exclusively in the back seat so unnecessary parent-child communication will not have to take place? Nope. They already have this car. Nothing about these ads add up.

So, what can we do? How do we make this terrible, terrible thing go away? I guess we could not buy their product, the 2011 Toyota Highlander. Warning: This plan may backfire. If the Highlander isn’t selling well, those in charge may think the commercials aren’t getting enough rotation, leading to more of the same ads, maybe even some kind of reality-show spinoff featuring our hero, Flynn. Maybe we’re all doomed. So, there you have it, the worst commercial in the world; there has to be one, there can be only one: HIGHLANDER!

James Sherman is junior newspaper journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].