Toyota’s 'Mad’ Gamble Pays Off

Toyota is no stranger to the strategy of paying to integrate its brand into the creative of a television show. But a recent foray was different from previous ones. The Jan. 28 episode of Fox’s sketch comedy show MadTV featured series regular Bobby Lee stripping down to his underwear and trying to dive into a new Toyota Yaris.

And Toyota paid for it to happen.

The skit, which sees two other actors trying to teach Lee to drive a Yaris they say belongs to Quincy Jones, marked the first of a five-episode deal that will put Toyota automobiles into MadTV. It indicates how brands appear to be getting more comfortable placing integrations into irreverent programming. And while the risk of the brand’s being portrayed poorly is still on the minds of marketers, well-received integrations like this one are creating a new outlet through which companies can reach a young, hip audience.

When Toyota was pitched the idea of advertising on MadTV, execs were attracted to the show’s demos. The company was launching a car in May that would be targeted to what it saw as the Mad audience.

“This is not just about hitting an 18-34 demo; this is about targeting a psychographic demo as well,” says Brand Arc President Rob Donnell, who handles Toyota’s integrations into such outlets as TV, film and gaming. “The show’s viewers are irreverent; they are their own people, like to do their own thing and discover stuff.”

But while Toyota had been happy with past integrations on shows like HBO’s Six Feet Under and NBC’s boxing reality show, The Contender, this was a riskier play. Sketch comedy typically makes fun of everything and anything, and often is ad-libbed—another reason placing a brand into such a show hasn’t been done often. “There is some risk here, absolutely,” says Donnell. “The biggest concern everyone had is whether they are going to disparage us in some way.”

He said convincing Toyota that it was worth the risk took a “little selling through.” The automaker brought more people than usual into the decision-making process, including the vehicle operations group responsible for launching the car. But in the end, Toyota put its faith in the hands of the producers and Madison Road Entertainment, the branded-entertainment studio that sold the integration for MadTV.

Madison Road had done one MadTV integration previously (with Sprint last season) and has a person devoted to the show, working with producers and sitting in on Tuesday table reads of scripts.


Madison Road CEO Jak Severson says, with that combination, they were able to create a comfort level for Toyota that closed the deal. “Advertisers get more comfortable when they have seen someone else do it,” he says, “which makes sense because of the lack of script approval and creative control.”

While marketers have little control over how their product is portrayed, the show’s producers say it’s in their best interest to respect the brands that have supported them. “Having a real brand adds to the creative,” says David Salzman, MadTV’s executive producer, “and we get a check for doing it.”

In that vein, producers make sure the actors know when a product is an integration.

But while producers are doing what they can to make sure Toyota is not lampooned, the deal has no provision for a minimum number of mentions or time the vehicle is shown on air. So for Donnell, it came down to trusting that Mad would look after Toyota’s investment and thus keep the door open for more integrations.

“At some point, you put yourselves in the hands of the producers,” he says. “And we were very happy with what happened on MadTV.”