3rd generation Prius, living in the ‘50s?

A quick search for the Toyota Prius “Harmony” commercial will provide you with scores of people saying how wonderful, captivating, and clever it is. Sure, you’ll find some who think using people as plants is a little creepy, but even most of them conclude that it “makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.” Apparently, it was the most liked new ad in May, according to Nielson.

Has the blatant sexism of their new slogan escaped everyone’s attention? “Harmony Between Man, Nature, and Machine”? I don’t care what your 5th grade teacher told you, “man” does not refer to the entire human population. It is 2009, and it is not okay to exclude (over!) half of the population for a cute, tidy little tagline, especially by the “world’s most respected company” (if you believe this research).

There are plenty of people who will—and have—told me that “we know what they mean,” so I should just let it go. Intent and reality are not the same thing. In reality, using the gender-specific word “man” is limited, in exactly the same way “woman” is if we swap the words. Would men feel included in the slogan “Harmony Between Woman, Nature, and Machine”? I would say not. Women should not be expected to tolerate this kind of unacceptable linguistic treatment.

And by the way Toyota, you might want to have a look at who really buys cars. As of a 2004 survey, women buy 52% of new vehicles and influence 85% of car buying decisions. According to another study the same year, “82 percent of women think environmentally friendly vehicles are ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat important.'” An 05 study showed that 20% of women consider fuel efficiency a top priority in buying a new car; overall, it was second only to reliability in the decision to choose one car over another. By now those percentages are probably even higher. So who do you think is going to be buying a Prius?

Be careful not to alienate a large portion of your client base. Women are “hardly a ‘niche’—they’re the majority.”And there’s just no excuse for being overtly sexist these days (yes, we know, covert sexism still permeates many areas of life, particularly advertising. The very least you can do is make sure your language reflects equality). Women really do make and influence more buying decisions than men; in fact, The Economist recently stated, “female consumers make more than 80% of discretionary purchases.” Do your research and don’t be offensive, unless that’s really your schtick.

The press release from Toyota’s advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, can be found here. It lists the following contact information:

Erin Poole

Saatchi & Saatchi LA



Joe Tetherow

Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.




Leave a Reply