Toyota Motor North America

Making a Hidden Danger Highly Visible

A scary solution helps Toyota fight a nightmare of a recall problem


Airbags are supposed to protect people from danger — not put them in it. But in 2008, the automotive parts manufacturer Takata announced that previously-installed airbags in more than 4,000 vehicles needed to be replaced immediately. To date, 63 million vehicles have now been recalled across 19 automakers. The reason? A part in the airbag can explode, shooting sharp metal fragments into the vehicle.

Industry-wide, more than 16 deaths in the U.S. have occurred, and hundreds have allegedly been injured. Our client, Toyota Motor North America, has made more than 100 million contact attempts to its vehicle owners, asking them to bring in their affected vehicles for repairs. Yet, many drivers continue to ignore the hidden danger lurking in their dashboards. The risk to drivers is particularly high in hot, humid regions where the conditions increase the likelihood of a malfunction, regions like Puerto Rico.

Toyota challenged Jackson Spalding with a very specific ask: get Puerto Ricans to take action when nearly half of the recalled vehicles on the island remained unrepaired.

Services Provided

  • Creative Concepting
  • Advertising Campaigns
  • Multicultural Marketing
  • Video Production
  • Photography
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Radio
  • Outdoor
  • Paid Media
  • Media Relations
  • Analytics

Our Approach

So, how do you convince people to take the recall warnings seriously? You scare them into action. Powerful creative is always grounded in strong consumer insight. The culture of Puerto Rico is very vibrant and visually-inspired, so the right picture can speak 10,000 words. The island also has one of the highest car per capita rates in the world, and many Puerto Ricans take great pride in maintaining their own vehicles. This explains why so many late model cars are still on the road. Another compounding factor was that the U.S. territory was still recovering from the destruction Hurricane Maria left in 2017, and the water damage further compromised these recalled vehicles.

Building the Monsters

Working with Dallas-based photographer and retoucher Scott Harben and his LA-based prop makers, we personified the danger hiding in every affected vehicle using custom-built ghoulish faces and hands made out of latex. These nightmarish creatures played right into the superstitions and lore so deeply ingrained in Puerto Rican culture.

Rolling Out the Campaign

Deciding where to reach people is every bit as important as how you reach them. Keeping in mind Puerto Rico’s car culture, our media strategists chose to primarily target people when they were in their vehicles. The media buy included radio, OOH billboards, gas station TV and digital display ads. To track campaign performance, we set up a custom URL with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration team.

The Results

Usually the measure of a campaign’s success is the number of views, clicks or conversions. For this project, our goal was to literally save lives. Within the first three months, millions of drivers saw the message, thousands responded – and we couldn’t be prouder.

Additionally, the effort was recognized as one of the 40 best campaigns of 2020 at the Global SABRE Awards, which receive more than 5,500 entries from over 60 countries.

250 M

combined media impressions

1,000 +

repairs scheduled

5 X

above industry average performance for display ads

The Team

Meet the JS team that worked alongside Toyota to bring this compelling campaign to life.