A still from Toyota's "Saved by Zero" ad.

Viewers Fed Up with Toyota's 'Saved by Zero' Ad

November 14, 2008 08:54 AM
by Anne Szustek
Toyota’s current nationwide ad campaign featuring a remake of 1983 New Wave hit “Saved by Zero” has not spurred sales, but it has inspired a passionate backlash.

TV Watchers Hope Toyota’s ‘Saved by Zero’ Ad Campaign Is for a Limited Time Only

October was the worst month for car sales since World War II, according to statistics provided by General Motors. “In my 27 years in the business, I’ve never seen a month like this,” Mark LaNeve, GM sales and marketing chief, was quoted as saying in business and finance blog Consumerist, who termed the current credit crunch “auto-Armageddon.”

In such a market, being able to offer “zero-percent financing to qualified buyers” would likely appear to be promotional gospel. Toyota thought so at least, and felt the need to spread the news of its promotion in the form of a commercial created by well-known ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi featuring a remake of The Fixx’s 1983 hit “Saved by Zero” hundreds of times.

Or, according to Esquire magazine’s Peter Schrager, “seven times during CBS’s 1 p.m. broadcast of the Jets-Chiefs game on Sunday,” Oct. 26; “six times during FOX’s 4 p.m. Steelers-Giants game, and five times over the [Oct. 20] Monday night battle between the Patriots and Broncos on ESPN.” In all, Schrager estimates the commercial aired “42,000 times” on the 26th.

The ads were also played frequently on Fox during the 2008 World Series and have been a staple in primetime programming on many networks for weeks, inspiring some rather pointed criticism from media critics and TV viewers and spawning groups on social networking sites like Facebook demanding the ad’s demise.

“The dealers like the program, and customers do too,” Toyota marketing spokesperson Joe Tetherow told the Associated Press. But if Toyota’s sales figures are any indication, television viewers are not dying to be “saved by zero”: the Japanese automaker posted a 23 percent decrease in sales during October.

The ad campaign can hardly claim all the credit for Toyota’s negative sales performance, as the credit crunch has almost certainly played a part, and other car manufacturers have seen large drop-offs in sales as well. GM’s sales are down by 45 percent. Ford has posted a 30 percent drop in sales. But neither of those manufacturers have current ad campaigns that have led television watchers to beg to be delivered from evil.

Opinion & Analysis: Toyota “Saved by Zero” commercial a scourge on the airwaves

The commercial features a giant red numeral zero that bends as one of the 11 Toyota models included in the zero-percent financing promotion zips by, bookended by the refrain, as Esquire transliterates it, “Sa-a-a-ved b-y-y-y ze-e-er-o-o-o. Saved by Zero! Saved by Zero!”

The version used in the commercial is a few notes off of the original version and is sung by an unnamed cover group, rather than The Fixx, the British group behind the 1983 New Wave hit. Fixx frontman Cy Curnin told Esquire via email, “They should have used the original. We had no real say in the matter. Though, it does get people talking about the song. Whether it’s pro or con—that’s a plus.”

But the only chart the 2008 version of the song is topping is for blood pressure, evidenced by the 5,000-plus membership of the Facebook group “Stop Playing Toyota’s “Saved by Zero” Commercial.”

“This commercial sucks, stop playing it. There have been worse commercials, and there have been commercials that were played this often,” reads the group’s mission statement. “But never before has a commercial this bad been aired so much.”

Given the lack of celebrity pitches or use of the original song, the production for the “Saved by Zero” commercial was low-budget. Most of Toyota’s advertising spend on this campaign likely went towards the frequency—and during high-visibility programming.

Toyota declined to give the AP concrete figures on its budget for this ad. Media agency TargetCast tcm told the AP that “a season’s worth of advertising on ESPN’s Monday Night Football alone likely would have cost Toyota $8 million to $10 million.”

In a post entitled “Toyota takes heat for ‘the herpes of the advertising world,’” the CAPS blog on investment site The Motley Fool reports that Toyota had “launched a huge wave of new incentives and commercials, which some estimate will cost the company in excess of $250 million,” of which the “Saved by Zero” commercial is part. The writer of the CAPS blog goes on to say, “Little did I know…how truly annoying this TV ad would become.”

Teresa Iezzi, editor of Creativity, a publication geared towards the advertising industry, told Esquire, “The spot is played over and over relentlessly during games, which are typically watched in real time, rather than DVRed.” She continues, “But I think ridiculous repetition has become a media strategy in itself, particularly for low budget efforts like this one.”

In the meantime, some are releasing their rage by repeating how ridiculous they find the ad. Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons pre-empted his New Orleans Saints predictions in his ESPN column to voice his distaste for the commercial

He suggests that he might have to buy a Toyota only to immediately drive it through the dealership's windows while screaming 'Saved By Zero.' 

“Cut down on the ads, Toyota. We’re not kidding. You know why you haven’t seen John Mellencamp in two years? He’s trapped in the basement of some frustrated baseball fan who dressed him like the Gimp and keeps him in a trunk after hearing ‘Our Country’ for the 700,000th time,” Simmons wrote.

Reference: “Saved by Zero:” 1983 versions and 2008 versions

Both the 1983 The Fixx version of “Saved by Zero” and the remake in Toyota’s fall 2008 ad campaign are available on YouTube. Comments and ratings have been disabled for Toyota’s version.

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