When Toyota was planning the release of the latest Highlander, the auto dealer called on Burrell Communications, one of the largest black-owned ad agencies in the nation, to develop a concept that would help sell the vehicle.
Black Enterprise spoke to Corey Seaton, VP Creative Director at Burrell Communications, about what went into the development of the promotion, which featured one of the last living Negro League players, Kansas City Monarchs’ Jim Robinson.
BE: What was the thought process regarding how to utilize Kansas City Monarchs’ Jim Robinson within the Toyota Highlander ad campaign that also celebrated the Negro League’s Baseball Centennial?
Seaton: A huge benefit of the Toyota Highlander is its three-row seating. But rather than showing the typical nuclear family, we wanted to put an emotion spin on that by showing multiple generations of an African American family. We knew the patriarch of that family should be special, heroic. So when we discovered 2020 is the centennial of the Negro Leagues, it led us to Mr. Robinson, one of the last living Negro League players. Once we identified him, all the pieces of the puzzle began to connect in a really special way.
Outside of increasing sales for the Highlander, what do you want people to get out of this particular campaign, and how do you come up with the concepts and ideas for whatever project you are working on?
I hope they feel a great sense of cultural pride seeing Mr. Robinson, the Negro League and the Kansas City Monarchs being acknowledged on a national platform, but a major brand. There’s no blueprint for creative concepting; we draw inspiration from an endless well of sources, but our intent is to always do it in a culturally engaging way.
Are you working on any projects that you’re particularly excited about?
Black culture provides so much to be excited about. New conversations, people, music, fashion, and trends are constantly bubbling up to the spotlight, waiting to be explored, celebrated, and shared. Our work lives at that intersection of creativity and culture.
On this particular campaign with the Negro Leagues, was there another concept or idea that could have been an alternative that would have gotten the same or similar message across?
We created another commercial within the same campaign that features four African American women attending a Kentucky Derby-like event. It’s upbeat and fun with a strong sense of style. All of the women wear unique hats, but our Highlander driver reveals her hat is the show stopper at the derby. We highlight the idea that the Highlander is an SUV you can “show up, and show out” in.
What’s the most important thing to you when working on the creatives of campaigns like this one?
I’m constantly reminded African Americans don’t see enough positive representations of themselves in the broadcast and digital space. So it’s really important to me that they see authentic reflections of themselves in the work. Whether it’s the diversity of their stories and lifestyles, to representing the full spectrum of their hair and skin tones, we want them to know that we see and acknowledge their excellence.