Toyota's "Swagger Wagon" (Toyota).

Well, not actually me but my husband. He loves his minivan. He is a stay-at-home dad and finds it the perfect conveyance for the kids, but also his tools, sports equipment, supplies, and our dog. Boring but practical and I admire that. I am more of a Hemi-powered-Dodge-Challenger-kind-of-girl, so thankfully one of us is practical.??

He was first introduced to the Chrysler Town and Country back when I worked at Chrysler and we were launching the Stow-and-Go seating system. I was running marketing and the agency had called me in a bit of a panic needing to get photo shoots done quickly for a brochure and posters to be used at the press reveal. I told them that they could call my husband, who was home with our infant son, and photograph him changing diapers and throwing strollers and bags into the minivan's storage bins. The experience sold my husband on the benefits of the minivan, and eight years later, he still drives a Town and Country.


While his story may be unique, it serves as an example of what drives minivan sales: Rationality. People buy minivans, more than any other type of vehicle, for cerebral reasons, not emotional ones. That may seem counter-intuitive, as the reason we buy these sorts of vehicles is usually because we have families, and nothing elicits more emotions. But still, no one dreams of one day owning a minivan. As teenagers, none of us had a candy apple red, chrome polished, sparkling in the sun, minivan poster hanging above our bed. Corvettes, Ferraris, Vipers -- those were the vehicles that took space on our walls, right next to Shaun Cassidy or Rob Lowe, or for the guys, Farrah Fawcett or Brooke Shields.

Celebrities and sports cars are about ego. Ego and minivans create a contradiction in terms because buying a minivan may be the least egotistical purchase you can possibly make. This makes minivans incredibly hard to market, and creates real pitfalls in some of the conventional tricks of the trade. Like, for instance, the idea of a celebrity endorsed minivan. This seems like a colossal waste of money because no matter how entertaining, consumers don't buy minivans because of the image that it will give them, not even if that celebrity is the aforementioned pin-up girl, Brooke Shields.

You may recall that VW used her to try to puff up the image, and hopefully sales, of its Routan. To be fair, the ads were funny and clever but the sales never came. Was it the fault of the ads? I doubt it. The Routan had far bigger issues, namely its value proposition compared to nearly identical Chrysler products. But it does make the point that without substance no amount of advertising can bring a sale. Celebrities can sometimes help position a brand that is all about ego and image but never for a brand that is all about practicality.

Similarly, humor-based advertising can be fun and break through the clutter, but again, this sort of ad is not likely to make the difference in the showroom when it comes to minivans. Recently, Toyota has created a series for its Sienna. These are actually well done spots and very entertaining. They also pass a few of my own tests of a good ad, like being memorable and making the vehicle the "star," highlighting one or two key features and benefits and having that "water cooler" quality. (Perhaps it's time to rename this attribute the "Facebook" quality, meaning you'd want to share it on your wall.)

While Sienna sales are up over the last two months, there are likely a multiple of reasons, not the least important being that the new model is hitting the market at the right time. There is a lot of pent up demand driving auto sales today, and minivan buyers are exactly the sorts of people who were more likely to put off buying a new vehicle during the financial turmoil of the past couple of years. I don't think these buyers are storming the Toyota dealerships because they've got to get their own "swagger wagon." The one that I know to be true is that no matter how fun and clever the ad, no matter how many celebrities you toss into the mix, a minivan is sold through hands-on experience and word-of-mouth endorsements from other experts... other moms and dads.


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