Why Cobie Smulders was the right choice for Toyota’s Super Bowl fantasy

Whether aliens are attacking the arctic, outlaws are stranding a family in the wild west or kids are just needing a ride home, Toyota is bringing the action to this year’s Super Bowl to spotlight the all-new 2020 Toyota Highlander. In the spot, titled ‘Heroes’, Cobie Smulders is calmly behind the wheel of the SUV in the role of action hero and mother as she rescues a cast of characters in familiar movie moments.

The spot, which will appear in the first ad break of the fourth quarter, features the Highlander Platinum grade. The ad kicks off the ‘Go Highlander’ campaign for the fourth-generation Highlander.

“When Toyota approached me, I felt very flattered getting to play the hero in my first-ever Big Game commercial,” said Smulders (Stumptown, How I Met Your Mother). “I’m a mom, and I love that I’m playing a mom in this ad. When I think of heroes, I think of women and moms – the toughest people out there – and to be able to represent that is a wonderful thing.”

The motivation for the campaign

The mission of the ‘Go Highlander’ campaign is to launch the new Highlander and make a splash with it, said John Payne, executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency that created the campaign, and “obviously Super Bowl supercharges that”.

He said that Highlander drivers are typically the ring leaders in their groups, the organizers, the rock, the one everyone leans on – the “glue to the crew”, so a three-row SUV makes a lot of sense for those people.

“To ‘Go Highlander’ is to go above and beyond. That doesn’t just apply to the vehicle, it applies to the people that drive it,” said Payne. “We wanted to do something big and exciting and fun to grab people’s attention. We wanted to prove what ‘Go Highlander’ means. It’s a 60-second product demonstration wrapped in a fun action movie trope.”

He said the team needed a way to make a car commercial fun to watch and they tapped into the action movie genre where someone gets left behind.

“There’s some tragic event and there’s not room and somebody has to volunteer, ‘go on, leave me behind.’ I always look at it as a roller coaster ride, you have these four peaks, the first one being the haz-mat scene, where somebody gets left behind. At the top you get your comic relief when Cobie pulls up and saves the day…then it goes through three more peaks and valleys,” said Payne.

Why Cobie?

Payne stated that the team looked at a lot of people for that role and Smulders “just hit the sweet spot”, but they didn’t land on her until they pondered other types of stars.

“First we were looking at action star types, but they tend to be a little too serious and guarded…they’re the tough one, and that felt wrong. Then we were looking at the other side, at more comedic actors, but they changed the tone in the wrong direction – we weren’t going for a laugh out loud comedy spot. That’s what was so great about Cobie is she possesses both sides. She’s got that cool action hero vibe but then she’s got this great personable attitude and a funny sense of humor. She’s very down to earth, very human, but she still has an edge. Her background’s pretty diverse. When we discovered Cobie, we knew that was it,” said Payne.

He said that Smulders was enthusiastic and fun to work with and a pleasure to have on set.

“It was a four-day shoot, and it was a bit grueling. Two of the scenes happen at night and it was pretty cold. One of the scenes, the arctic scene, we were blowing in snow, it was probably in the 40s and we were trudging around in the wind and Cobie never complained. Then we went to the city (Los Angeles) the next night and it was a cold, damp night, and she ordered a coffee cart for the crew. She was out walking around on set saying hi to people. That’s just the way she is, she’s a very lovely, friendly lady,” he said.

The Super Bowl spot is the start of a 360 campaign that will run throughout the year. A movie trailer music piece, which was uniquely composed for the spot, carries the viewer through each twist and turn of the Highlander’s journey.

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