By on September 29, 2020

Toyota’s all-new Venza fills a two-row, crossover-sized void between the smaller RAV4 and the larger Highlander, and is essentially a return to what the Highlander was originally. To help draw in buyers to its resurrected nameplate, Toyota decided to use a long-standing Subaru ad trope: the family pet.

Toyota promises to empower Venza drivers to “discover the unlimited possibilities that await them on the road ahead.” And to that end, the company unveiled a new marketing campaign called “Seekers of New.” Its first ad spot, Lifesaver, is intended to display all the impressive features of the Venza, and relies on the all-new theme of a lost dog.

A small dog finds freedom from its owners and goes on a journey across an unidentified city that’s probably in the Pacific Northwest. The dog’s damp and despondent owners give chase and must rely on their capable crossover to find the dog.

Only the Venza can help its owners through the following tough driving situations: Rain in the suburbs, an empty city, a wet bridge, and a damp underpass. Along the way the couple makes use of the panoramic roof that becomes opaque at the touch of a button, and the rearview mirror that turns into a camera. Light hipster tunes accompany the ad, which ends with a triumphant reunion of wet people and misbehaving dog.

While the ad itself is relatively unremarkable, it does highlight how the mandatorily hybridized Venza might lack an identifiable customer base. While it’s in theory more stylish than the Highlander, it rides on the same platform. Venza’s entry price is within $2,000 of the larger and very well-established three-row Highlander, but its cargo room is less than RAV4. And unlike Highlander, there’s no V6 in any trim. Power comes solely from the hybrid 2.5-liter inline-four.

And with its debut ad, Venza decided to go after a customer who’s long belonged to Subaru – dog lovers. The Subaru ads certainly worked in building a pet-intensive and outdoor adventure brand image for Outback and company. But the Venza’s focus on style over spaciousness and in-town handling doesn’t necessarily jive as well with a down to earth pet message. If you really need room for your dog, isn’t the RAV4 a better choice?

Time will tell if the Venza continues attempts to sway dog owners with future ads, but that’s a steep hill to climb.

[Images: Toyota]

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34 Comments on “Adventures in Marketing: The Toyota Venza Attempts to Steal Subaru’s Thunder...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Subaru’s “thunder” deserves to be ‘stealed.’

    Helped by the decline of the anti-big-car-company SAAB (albeit not for lack of money wasted on it by clueless large MFR “investments”)

    The wandering masses of Gen-X and Millenials had no auto to love but Subaru, who fell into the hole, a niche, where marketing trumps over results; Ron Zarella would be so proud.

    For 20+ years, nearly every MFR has a better option than enduring Subaru’s expensive durability problems. “Don’t buy it used, but it new” is the clarion-call for such an automotive disconnect with reputation vs. reality.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Not sure what you mean by Subaru’s expensive durability problems, but with the exception of a rear wheel bearing, my Outback is hanging tough at 150k. Head gaskets are just fine.

      Overall not sure if the Venza can steal Subaru sales; I think the typical Subaru customer looks for the unique brand, cheap yet reliable AWD, and a few like the boxer engine concept. I’m sure, though, like myself, I wish there was an Outback hybrid option. Subaru is in a relationship with Toyota – can their hybrid technologies adapt to the boxer concept?

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        Consider yourself on the lucky side of the bell-curve, and good for you. Subaru killed it me for my worst-POS-Subaru-ever purchase. $8000 gone. Not every pit bull unexpectedly rips the face of the owner’s five year old, but enough do.

        Having owned many of this brand when younger and foolisher, and after asking other owner’s opinions, Subaru is too high risk for me, and undeserving of their reputation. Car and Driver had a long-term review where they were shocked by the repairs in the first 40k miles.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a 2001 Outback that was all kinds of trouble. But since then lots of people in my family have owned them (almost all bought new) with little issue and I figured they were over the hump, then my brothers 2012 Legacy needed head gaskets at 110,000 miles (again bought new) so I’m thinking they still may have some issues.

        • 0 avatar
          Stanley Steamer

          I’ve had a few, including an SVX. Just flush your coolant every 30K miles max, and no more head gasket problems. It gets acidic and the engine geometry allows it to sit on the gasket joints when engine is off.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            “It gets acidic and the engine geometry allows it to sit on the gasket joints when engine is off.”

            THIS, kids, is why we come to TTAC. A fact-based insight which explains a real-world customer complaint and how to avoid it.

            Thanks, @Stanley Steamer.

          • 0 avatar
            bullnuke

            If I’m not mistaken, most if not all water cooled automobiles have coolant sitting on the head gasket joints when not running. The systems are designed to remain full to the level of the radiator top header (coolant doesn’t magically drain off to a sump when not running). Sorry, Stanley Steamer – I don’t agree with your comment.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Jeez, Detroit X, you were issuing the same complaint a decade ago. Then about two dozen times since. So some time or other in the dim distant past, you bought a secondhand Subie, didn’t inspect it properly, and blamed Subaru for your shortcomings and the car’s. Then parlayed it all into a rant that’s gone on for years. I suppose no one else ever has been ripped off on a used car. And Subaru is responsible for all your troubles. Right. Give me a break. Never seen someone so butt hurt for so long and all their own fault.

      Your complaint is the the exception that proves the rule, otherwise Subaru wouldn’t have kept going from strength to strength. I had two that lasted 21 years between them from new. They still worked when I traded them in and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to maintain. Unlike the Audis that preceded them.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I never could figure out what the original Venza was supposed to be. A crossover? A pseudo minivan? A station wagon? Fairly generic, with nondescript styling. This one has all kinds of weird creases and curves.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      To me, the Venza was an unusual advanced initiative (for Toyota) of a trend that never materialized, yet. In it’s favor: it was cheap to do. “Stylish station wagon,” in an era where station wagon means “ugh.”

      Wow. Toyota has regrouped, and let’s see what happens in the future.

      The Aztek–for the concept it presented–would/should have endured as a Millennial activity vehicle. But of course, GM screwed it up, and bailed out on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      The original Venza was just a tall Camry wagon. My wife has one and loves it. It has been dead-nuts reliable (of course) except that it has developed a small oil leak between the engine and trans. Probably rear main seal. Mildly disappointing.

      One odd quirk: it seems like the rear seat is about 6″ too far toward the rear of the vehicle. It has limo-like rear seat room, but not enough cargo space.

      • 0 avatar

        The rear seat room is the main reason I would want one. One of the few midsize vehicles with a rear seat fit for 6 footers. That said the cargo area is tiny and short as I recall. I remember a younger women owning one and her gym bag and tennis racket looked ton fill an oddly large amount of the space back there.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Rear main seal issues are common on the 2GR-FE, with very high mileage. Our ’08 Sienna is at 198,000 miles, and there’s an occasional oil drop on the garage floor, from there.

        I know the Venzas are stout – a lady in a Venza rear-ended me last year, as I was driving home a 2012 Kia Forte sedan, a first car for my second daughter, that I’d just bought 40 minutes earlier. Everything in the rear – bumper, trunklid, taillights, rear quarters, trunk floor, rear rails – on the Forte was wiped out, but the Venza didn’t have a lot of noticeable damage.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        “Venza was just a tall Camry wagon.”

        tired to hear this. This platform was shared with Lexus and Highlander. So, Highlander is also a tall Camry? Then RX is also a tall Camry?

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          The Venza went down the same assembly line in Kentucky as the Camry and had the same wheelbase.
          That sure sounds like a Camry wagon to me.

          “Then RX is also a tall Camry?”
          Maybe. What leads you to think that it isn’t?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @slavuta – YES IT ABSOLUTELY IS.

          Camry is to Highlander as Caprice Sedan is to Caprice Wagon.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            you are exaggerating when it comes to camry/venza. They even had different 4cyl engines. Different seats, different dashes. Yes, they shared platform, even so much that wheelbase was the same. But I am sure, Venza had stiffer suspension to hold more weight. Seats in Venza were more upright. Venza had AWD, Camry did not. So, yea, they are related but it is not a Camry Wagon as many portray.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “I never could figure out what the original Venza was supposed to be”

      Neither did anyone else, which is why it didn’t sell. Most saw it as a wagon which was the kiss of death. It needed to be higher off the ground and more CUV looking which it appears they fixed with this new version.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Original Venza (to me) was a tall wagon, similar to the Volvo XC70, just without the running costs and sticker and badge. Very dorky looking.

      This is a lux hybrid RAV4 without going to Lexus, although it looks like a Lexus. This looks really good for what it is.

      I thought the original Venza was for old people. I think the new one is for CUV buyers age independent.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        The original Venza was advertised as a “empty nest lifestyle” vehicle, which didn’t attract a very young crowd. Effectively it’s Toyota’s Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Honda Passport, etc. 2 rows with some back storage, although the swoopy rear design sure cuts into useable space…I believe the RAV4 has more storage space available…

    • 0 avatar
      FAHRVERGNUGEN

      Frankly, I’d rather like the Gen 1 Venza, in brown please. Me likes a weird wagon.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s about time consumers realize that other vehicles can navigate wet roads to carry a pet to safety.

    IMO, I like the new Venza on paper, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      Many people have found that if you place a pet between you and the steering wheel, your chances of survival in a collision is much higher.

      …but a messier car, after.

      :-)

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Subaru’s marketing is brilliant. Because not everyone cares how much horsepower their car has or that it can tow 100,000 lbs or that it has 24” chrome wheels and snarling, menacing face to intimidate other drivers. Most people just want to get where they’re going in a normal, useful car. With a little lifestyle, as in “the life I wish I had” kind of styling.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The original Highlander was a good size, with clean styling. Since then, they’ve gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. I still see plenty of clean, well-cared-for first-gen Highlanders on the road.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Empty nester here. I like everything I see in the Venza , except the price. They are bumping into the lower end of the entry German SUVs. If they have decent leases (easy way to get into them, without a $400-$500/month note) they sound great. Toyota reliability and resale is important, but the styling carries the day for me.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Toyota is not the next Subaru.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    To me, the original Venza filled a unique (albeit small, perhaps) niche for people who wanted a vehicle with cargo capacity that was higher than a sedan but shorter than an SUV. My 2010 Venza, bought used 5 years ago with 55,000 miles, has been a perfect complement to my Sonata sedan. Has been absolutely bulletproof, with ample cargo area for me, but doesn’t give me the sense that I’m riding high, like in a pickup truck. I know that puts me in the minority, as most people like the higher sitting height of an SUV/pickup. So if someone wants to call the original Venza a higher riding Camry wagon, fine with me.

    That all said, the specs on this new Venza appear to be much more SUV-like. I like the hybrid feature for economy, and though the cargo area is decreased from the original Venza, that wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me. But if it “feels” like other SUV’s in the market, then it has lost a bit of uniqueness to me. I would check one out, but I would expect to compare it to other SUV’s, as there doesn’t appear to be a vehicle in the market today like the original Venza. If there is something like it, point it out to me – I’d be very interested.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The new Venza is one of the more attractive Toyota vehicles IMO, but for the pirce I think it is a mistake that it gets the RAV4 Hybrid engine instead of the higher output Highlander hybrid engine. Really that is kind of a thing with many of Toyota’s HSD offerings right now.

    I’d say it should be:
    121hp version in the Corolla, Prius, C-HR
    210hp version in Camry, Rav4, UX
    245hp version in Venza, Avalon, Highlander, Sienna, ES300h, NX
    308hp version in RX, ES400h(new trim)
    355hp version in LC, LS, RC(new offering)

  • avatar
    snakebit

    I’m still smarting from the version one Venza TV ads in New England, picturing the typical Venza owning couples as stylish and well-groomed, while the Outback couple looked like disheveled hippies, probably the only time I found Toyota TV ads to be condesending and mean-spirited. Yes, I have a new RAV4 that I’m very happy with, but could have seriously considered a Subaru Outback or Cross-Tek had the dealer bothered to send a salesman out to talk to us in the 45 minutes we were perusing their cars outside. I honestly can’t fathom the need for a new Venza, and understandibly, just the model name is a negative marketing factor to me when we’re ready for a new car. Toyota, honestly, give it another model name, and this time, don’t put down owners of competing models in your TV ads, just point out why the new(whatever)model needs to be in a car shoppers driveway.

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