Behind the scenes with Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi’s 2021 Hilux campaign

To successfully reaffirm Hilux’s place as the number-one ute in Kiwis’ hearts, Toyota turned to long-standing, trusted partner Saatchi & Saatchi to pull off a multi-channel campaign that received phenomenal love right from its launch.


Thanks to a relationship spanning more than 25 years, Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand deeply understand the Toyota brand. Knowing the legacy that Hilux has to live up to within Kiwi culture, and with a strong brief from Toyota including the need to “own the barbecue conversation”, to herald the arrival of the powerful new 2021 Hilux, they were tasked with reclaiming Hilux’s spot as the country’s number-one ute.

The Hilux brand has been synonymous with the word ‘ute’ for generations, but in the past decade, there has been a real shift as the category has doubled in size and become the vehicle of choice for a broader range of New Zealanders than ever before. With Hilux’s rival Ford Ranger capturing the nation’s imagination and Mitsubishi Triton offering great value, Toytoa needed to stand out in order to achieve more growth. 

Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi David McIndoe says that although Hilux was loved and considered tried and true by Kiwis, this love needed to be turned into noise. “We needed to reinvigorate the relationship between Kiwis and Hilux, and reclaim our rightful place and the ute for all New Zealand – city, coast or country.”

Andrew Davis.

Playfully celebrating its role in Kiwi culture, the humorous multi-channel campaign celebrated the connection between friends and the strong bond between Toyota and New Zealand. True to Toyota form, it was set on a farm with a plethora of farmers parking up for a good old-fashioned window-to-window yarn – but with a nostalgic nod to a certain 1980s Hilux ad featuring a tray loaded to the brim with cabbages. 

Lexus & TGRNZ General Manager Marketing Andrew Davis says the creative process involved a good degree of collaboration through multiple creative tissue sessions, balanced with a healthy amount of trust. “It’s always an ever-evolving process, especially when creating an ad that really penetrates culture. There’s a level of authenticity and organic touch that’s required. The team did a fantastic job at interacting and getting the best out of such a wide range of talent.”

Pre-production started in September 2020, then the shoot on Queenstown Hill took place over four days at the beginning of October. Directed by Sweetshop’s Damien Shatford, with stills by Ross Brown, the campaign was made up of 20 individual pieces of film, including TV, social, digital, press, outdoor and a number of site-specific contextual iterations. The media approach was led by Starcom New Zealand. Post-production took place throughout October and all production was completed to go live by 22 November. The music that underpinned the campaign was a bespoke collaboration between local music legends Troy Kingi and Tami Neilson, revisiting the classic (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. Kingi had also acted in the previous two Hilux campaigns.

It was Saatchi & Saatchi Chief Creative Officer Steve Cochran’s first sizeable project since coming on board in July 2020. “I was lucky to land at the right time, and felt even luckier to discover our largest client was so trusting, collaborative and genuinely great to work with.”

In the context of Covid, the brief evolved to be more sensitive to themes that Saatchi & Saatchi might have once explored. “Covid had many brands pulling back from big launches,” says Steve. “We saw this as an opportunity to have an even bigger impact.”

When it came to the execution of the campaign and how it showed up for consumers, Saatchi & Saatchi made sure to get hyper-contextual. Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Creative Director Corey Chalmers says, “For instance, if you were leaving Auckland Airport, you’d have been served with a digital screen ad that said, ‘Where are you specimens off to?’ That was a lot of fun.”

Corey Chalmers.

New Zealand loved it too. A TRA report revealed that the campaign had achieved 74 percent likeability among consumers. Within three months of the campaign’s launch, Toyota Hilux was outselling Ford Ranger for the first time in eight years, and as of January 2021, it’s the highest-selling vehicle in New Zealand.

On top of all this, due to popular demand, T-shirts with quotes from the TVC are being sold through Mr Vintage. “But just as satisfying as the hard stats, lines from our ad were being quoted and re-enacted up and down the country,” says Corey. “Hilux advertising had once again infiltrated the vernacular of Kiwis. Head to a barbecue now, and you’ll find people who’ve heard of it and who have their favourite bit, character or line. We successfully reaffirmed our place in New Zealanders’ hearts.”

Not only did the work resonate extremely well in popular culture, but it also resonated equally well within the industry. At the 2021 Axis Awards held at Auckland’s Shed 10 in March, Saatchi & Saatchi proudly took home two awards for Toyota New Zealand: Client of the Year and the Brand Axis award for sustained success over 10 years. 

“Every person who touched this project seemed to make it better – from agency to client to production company and crew,” says Steve. “That’s the real story behind why it’s a piece of work loved by so many.”

Andrew says the final product turned out to be exactly the quintessential Kiwi ad they’d set out to make. “It’s created a huge amount of buzz and the key lines from the ad have become integrated into everyday Kiwi slang in the same way the ‘Bugger’ ads were in the late’ 90s. We’ve seen old and new Hilux fans alike engage with our brand in new ways, including many fans recreating the Hilux ad on social media. It’s been a hugely successful campaign in reaffirming the Toyota Hilux as the favourite ute for all Kiwis. The end result was pure gold.” 


This article was originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

About Monique McKenzie

Monique McKenzie is a Content Producer who writes across the ICG Media Business Titles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.