Toyota is tapping into the creative fuel of Saatchi & Saatchi to take the new Hilux to the masses.
This is the biggest advertising campaign Toyota has launched for the Hilux brand in more than three years and it comes off the back of a five-year stint that has seen the Ford Ranger claim the throne as the nation's favourite vehicle.
The stakes could also not be higher, given the Motor Industry Association (MIA) projection that the impact of Covid-19 will ultimately wipe 25 per cent off the new car sales market by the end of the year.
This campaign marks the continuation of a creative partnership between Toyota and Saatchi, dating back more than 20 years and spanning a number of golden advertising moments, including the iconic "Bugger" ad from 1999.
This is the first Saatchi campaign overseen by new Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer Steve Cochran, who joined the agency after leaving Colenso BBDO amid the chaos caused by Covid-19.
Taking the reins of the hallowed Toyota Hilux brand comes with a weight of expectation, but Cochran says it's something he's become accustomed to in his decades in the industry.
"You personally put that pressure on yourself on every brief and every job," says Cochran.
"This is weighted with a bit more of that because of the legacy of the Hilux ads and a new agency for me, which I started at in the middle of a pandemic. That's definitely not an easy time to start and get to know people in the building."
Covid-19 also had the impact of pushing back production of the campaign by two weeks, but Cochran explains that this isn't too bad considering the international context of pandemic breaking records around the world.
The latest campaign isn't likely to spark 100 Advertising Standards Authority complaints in the vein of "Bugger", but it continues the Hilux approach of bringing together a quirky assortment of Kiwi characters to comedic effect – something that Toyota general manager of marketing Andrew Davis views as integral to the brand.
"Hilux is a quintessential brand in terms of Kiwi humour," Davis says.
"We've had the days of Crumpy, the bulls ads and Bugger. So it's really a vehicle that celebrates a close connection with Kiwi culture."
Asked whether he thought it might be worth holding back on the advertising campaign until everything stabilised, Davis says it was important to promote the Hilux as early as possible.
"The best time to run a campaign is when the vehicle is fresh," he says.
When you're trying to challenge people's thinking in a model lineup like utes, the best time to do it is when the vehicle is new," says Davis.
"With a model that has the volume and strength of the Hilux, there's so much relying on the campaign to keep pushing the message out, so you need to get on to it as soon as you can. It's just fortunate we've been able to do that."
The latest ad takes that connection a little further than it has in the past, showing a diverse range of Kiwi drivers from all walks of life converging for 90 seconds of catchy one-liners.
The strong connection between Hilux and New Zealand has, however, faced strong competition in recent years.
MIA data shows that by the end of 2019 Ford had sold 9485 Rangers, while Toyota's Hilux tally came in at 7126. Further back, you have Mitsubishi Triton on 5319 sales and the Holden Colorado on 4747.
The MIA data for 2020 to the end of October shows a continuation of that trend, with 6309 Rangers sold to the 4720 Hilux vehicles over the same period.
However, there are some signs that the new Hilux could be the one to turn the tide and put the Toyota vehicle back in the prime spot.
When isolating the figures for October, the sale of 731 Hilux utes pipped Ford's tally of 686 Rangers.
So is this the start of a trend that could see number one and two switch by the end of next year?
"There are few facets to it," says Davis.
"Firstly, when you look at ute sales over the last few years, the shift of Kiwis into SUVs and utes has been significant. In that time, we've had record sales for Hilux year on year on year and we've seen Ranger number one, Hilux number two, fighting it out back and forth.
"While Ranger has pipped us, Hilux has always been a strong product. But you have life cycles with products. First they're new, they're fresh and you hope they're ahead of your competitors. But then, over time, your competitors start to get better, so it's just a matter of improving as much you can when you can.
"With the new Hilux, it's a total improvement, from tip to toe. It's all new. So, we're back in the battle with a strong new ute and our competitors have also launched a new product, so it's an exciting time."
While the battle between the major car brands always adds a touch of intrigue, the industry faces a much larger challenge in the shape of the ongoing economic effect of Covid-19.
In his early November release, MIA chief executive David Crawford said the year-to-date market was down 23.5 per cent and will finish about 25 per cent down on 2019 volumes.
Davis admits that those numbers are reflective of the challenges across the industry, but says there have been dual trends emerging across the market.
Davis says the decline of the tourism industry has seen the rental sale market decline markedly, but there have also been strong sales on the private user side of the business.
"If you look at totality, our volume has come back quite a bit from what we expected, but that has largely been the rental impact," says Davis
"Sales to everyday customers are going really well. I think that's because rather than travelling, people are looking at other purchases, like motor vehicles."
Davis stops short of making any predictions on how the campaign might perform or what might happen in the market next year, saying things are simply too unpredictable at the moment.
"We've launched a big campaign while we still have a pandemic at play globally and who knows what happens locally," says Davis.
"I'm really interested to see how that works, how Kiwis respond and what type of cut-through we get… It's all new territory for everybody."