Flipping Gender Hierarchy with a Toyota Ad Re-Do

I was just cracking a beverage at my in-laws’ house the other night when I glanced at a stack of junk mail on the kitchen island. Sitting at the top was a #Toyota direct mail postcard – sure to have landed in the mailbox of every household in the surrounding area, a few tens of thousands. Here it is:

Pretty standard stuff. The creative group over at corporate has a template they use, and every so often they swap out the copy and photos, all of which are available to them from some centralized photo repository. Design is created, goes off to a director for quick approval, then out the door to fulfillment. Nothing especially complicated or noteworthy about this process (*I don’t know exactly what their process is, I just assume so as I’ve worked in a similar capacity).

Except for maybe the fact that the folks over at Toyota are missing a huge opportunity to engage people for whom diversity and inclusion is important (an ever-growing shift). What I mean is, the photo contains 3 people, all of whom are white men. This is the auto industry of course, which is historically pretty conservative representation of people and families – so it’s not a surprise, as much as a subtle (or not so subtle) let down. Would it hurt to make an effort to show diversity? No way, but who’s going to take the chance?

Who’s going to showcase women, people of color, LGBT folks, alternative families, people with disabilities…? Best not to disrupt the base, is a common sentiment. But what if it was a good kind of disruption? In direct mail, the whole goal is to get people to stop in their tracks and notice you. Otherwise, into the trash you go. And fast. So why not do something a little disruptive?

So that’s what I’ve done. I designed a couple alternatives that merely do what I call “Flipping the Hierarchy” (not to be confused with “Flipping¬†off¬†the Hierarchy”, a whole different feel than what we’re going for here). I do this constantly in my head every time I look at an ad. It’s actually a ton of fun, and I encourage you to do the same. Notice how you feel on the inside when you see these ads I’ve created.

Do they make you feel a little uncomfortable?

Do they make you feel excited?



You might ask, are there really enough women in the auto trades that would warrant using their photos in creative? Perhaps in reality, using women in both photos wouldn’t be realistic – men still dominate the field. But it does evoke a reaction, doesn’t it? I suppose we could also have a chicken or egg conversation about it – If more women are represented in these trades, perhaps more women will think to join them. Which is a good thing right? Unless that makes you feel threatened. And if it does, notice that.

Same goes for Hispanics, African Americans, Middle Easterners. Flipping the hierarchy doesn’t have just a “gender” variable. There are many variables: like race, age, physical ability, body type (I mean, how obvious is the use of that musclebound guy in the actual Toyota pic?). All of these variables can and should be manipulated as the opportunity is available (goal: every time we design), because the truth of the matter is – America is not just white men. Toyota’s employees and customers are all colors of the rainbow, and they all should feel included when they receive their bi-annual oil change reminder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *