Research Outline

Toyota Prius Marketing


To determine how the Toyota Prius was marketed to become an icon of sustainability, specifically to understand how the Prius was marketed from its introduction in 2001 until its redesign in 2003, and from 2003 onward, to better understand the relationship between sales, marketing messaging, and product design.

Early Findings

The Prius Introduction to the US

  • The Toyota Prius was first released in 1997 in Japan. Prior to the Prius´ introduction to the US market, the 1997 model from Japan was shipped to the US to allow the US market to taste the revolutionary new vehicle that was soon to be released.
  • There were several issues with this approach. The Prius´ that had been imported for this purpose were right hand rather than left-hand drive as no left-hand models had yet been manufactured. Potential US customers immediately complained when the Prius was first shown in Southern California. Consumers complained the interior looked cheap, the trunk was not big enough to hold a stroller, and the back seats did not fold down. This feedback made Toyota very aware that the Prius sold in Japan was not likely to be a good fit for the US market.
  • Toyota released the first Prius in the US in 2000. Despite the first generation US Prius having increased power.
  • Saatchi and Saatchi LA and Oasis Advertising of New York were hired to market the Prius on its introduction to the US market. The "Prius/Genius" campaign was the product of this relationship. The campaign aimed to "communicate not only the Prius' environmental advantages but also communicate how desirable and practical it was for regular, everyday transportation."

The Prius/Genius Campaign

  • This campaign started two years before the Toyota Prius was released in the US with the primary purpose of developing a conversation with potential buyers. The campaign served its purpose, and 40,000 people expressed an interest in the Prius. These consumers were given private access to the Prius website and the opportunity to pre-purchase the Prius. One thousand eight hundred consumers took up this opportunity.
  • The campaign eventually morphed into a traditional media campaign, "using broadcast and print advertising and continued to combine interactive, outdoor and lifestyle marketing."
  • In its marketing, Toyota targeted the tech-savvy early adopters rather than the green consumer. It used messaging that emphasized its point of difference, such as "Ever heard the sound a stoplight makes?"


  • In our initial hour of research, we have scoped the availability of information in the public domain. Happily, there is a large volume of available material relating to Toyota Prius marketing, both pre and post-2003.