The education featured in Burrell’s “Love Lessons”

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Toyota Camry's "Love Lessons" by Burrell Communications

Toyota Camry’s “Love Lessons” by Burrell Communications

Burrell Communications’ Love Lessons campaign for the Toyota Camry is more than just a marketing triumph. Created with the African American consumer in mind, it connects with anyone who has a thing for cars, music, humor, and romance.

Consisting of nine videos that urge consumers to love the Camry “for all the wrong reasons,” the digital effort received a Silver Plaque from the Chicago Television Awards on March 22.

The widespread appeal and official recognition of the final product are noteworthy accolades for Burrell, a medium-sized shop that specializes in multicultural advertising. But, according to Chief Creative Officer Lewis Williams, it all began with a cool product.

“We have a new, redesigned Camry, and it is sexy,” he explains. “Rims, dual exhaust, low to the ground. How do you let new consumers know?”

Williams estimates that Burrell has been working with Toyota for “about 14 years.” When the 2018 Camry was released, the agency shifted the car’s positioning away from the “family sedan” aisle and into the fast lane.

In one spot, he says that drivers are reminded to “keep your hands at nine and three,” even though they’ll “want to touch it all over.”

 
TOYOTA CAMRY LOVE LESSONS #4 — “NINE AND THREE”

 

Another describes the power of its compelling beauty.

“When you park a nice hot car, you want to turn around and check it out,” Williams says. “But don’t look back too long, because you might forget to look forward and bump into something.”

 
TOYOTA CAMRY LOVE LESSONS #2 — “LOOKING BACK”

 

A DJ who sounds like Barry White offers a play-by-play during “Love Lessons.” Channeling one of the smoothest communicators in American history, he offers a glimpse of the knowledge that Burrell employs to reach multiple demographics.

“All these things that drive culture … athletics, fashion, music … it more likely comes from the African American toolbox,” Williams explains. “From a creative perspective, we got a hell of a toolbox.”

These days, modern songs by African American artists have gained as much cross-cultural popularity as the Classic Soul ballads that helped White become a universal ambassador of love. “Hip-hop is the number one genre,” Williams says. “There are not enough Black people to make it number one.”

But merely hiring someone who sounds like Barry White — or 50 Cent or Diddy or Drake, for that matter — is just the beginning. Transforming such popular references into a successful campaign is a task best handled by shops that specialize in the genre.

“There’s always a space for expertise,” says Williams. “We’ve been in that space for decades, and you just don’t get there overnight.”

This expertise includes tapping into the mainstream when appropriate, which Williams does with ease. One of the reasons he considers the Camry to be cool and sexy is its resemblance to a NASCAR vehicle.

“Those things are so close to the ground,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

Still, companies occasionally rush multicultural elements into their content without doing any research, and they often pay a hefty price for the oversight. Dove appeared to show how its soap turns black people into white people and faced an immediate boycott. Vanity Fair seemed to forget that not all actors are caucasian and ignited a wildfire backlash.

Lewis Williams
Lewis Williams

Williams — an African American man who was raised in Georgia, educated at Kent State, and employed by Leo Burnett before accepting the reigns at Burrell — doesn’t need much external consulting to get it right the first time.

“A lot of brands are not trusted by the African American community,” he says. “We can navigate that because we actually live everyday in that community.”

This knowledge is especially useful in social media channels, where Williams says that African Americans are continuing a dialogue that they’ve held for generations.

“We’ve always been word of mouth people,” he explains. “We’ve always told stories because that’s how we kept our history going. Now the grapevine is social media.”

The conversation also includes a lot of young people, who are traditionally opposed to anything that adults consider popular. This prompts Williams to acknowledge, “most brands are not welcomed in” this “very social space.” But he is encouraged by the way it has energized them.

“What I like about them is that they’re actually coming off of social media and getting into the real world,” he says. “They’re taking that extra step. All these people under the voting age. It’s 60s passion. It’s real.”

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