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Toyota's Psy-style Waku-Doki ad inherits Japan's bizarre ad crown

Tue, 29 Jul 2014

A new Japanese Toyota ad featuring crisply suited businessmen driving into the jungle only to segue into a Psy-style music-video dance-off with a gorilla and natives is the latest car commercial to go viral. Jungle Wakudoki is the newest installment in a grand tradition of bizarre ads from the island nation that are by turns hilarious, head-scratching and occasionally even frightening.

Let's face it: My people are weird.

I'm half-Japanese and take suitable pride in my Asian roots, but even I can't figure out what's been slipped into the water coolers of the country's ad agencies much of the time – or the nation at large, for that matter. From Japan's ubiquitous obsession with all things adorable (kawaii) to its offbeat sense of humor and its bizarrely perverse and violent tentacle porn, it's clear there's a lot going on in the culture, and only some of it bubbles up to the surface in its marketing efforts. Much of the strangest and most amazing ads are for non-transportation products (e.g. laundry soap, snacks, energy drinks), but the automotive space has its fair share. This latest Toyota ad had me trawling YouTube for a common theme, trying to make sense of why these spots are the way they are. Scroll down to watch the Toyota ad in question as well as a bunch of other examples of Japan's most bizarre car-related ads and see if you can't find the thread that runs between them. Is it just that something's being lost in translation? Have your say in Comments.

Toyota: Jungle Wakudoki

Thanks in large measure to its Prius and ever-expanding hybrid lineup, Toyota enjoys a reputation for being a corporation that goes out of its way to live in harmony with nature. We're not sure if this earworm of a Hilux pickup commercial is an unusual riff on that reputation, but "Waku Doki," Japanese for "heart pumping, adrenaline racing" is a new theme for the brand globally as it continues working to upend its reputation as a manufacturer of dull, appliance-like vehicles.

Toyota: Human Touch

Four years ago, the UK's Sussex Safer Roads Partnership unveiled its Embrace Life ad, which we called "The Most Beautiful Seatbelt Advocacy Ad Ever." We featured that spot back in 2010 and it went viral in a big way, racking up nearly 18-million hits on YouTube. We're not sure if the people behind that safety PSA ever saw this Toyota earlier Human Touch spot for the Yaris, but it clearly plays on the same idea, albeit with wackier and more amusing results.

Up Garage – Drift Angels

It's not only automakers who indulge in this penchant for bizarre humor in car-related ads. In fact, this Up Garage auto accessory store ad isn't admittedly all that bizarre, but it humorously leverages Japan's fixation with schoolgirl cuteness and sexuality.

Autoway Tire - Snowy Road

When was the last time you saw television commercial preceded by a genuine viewer warning? This Autoway Tire ad is very different in tone from the others featured here, with a grainy, dark feel reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project.

As it turns out, you needn't be a Japanese corporation to let your ad department's freak flag fly a little when you're courting the country's consumers. Check out this recent Mercedes-Benz ad for its new GLA-Class, which features a Nintendo theme. The video places a certain plumber from Mario Bros. in German automaker's new compact crossover for some eight-bit amusement. That's not terribly strange in and of itself, but the appearance of a somewhat angry and creepy-looking real-life Mario at the end of the spot certainly got people chatting on the internet when the video went viral.

By Chris Paukert

See also: 2015 Toyota Yaris to start at $14,845* and look like this, MotorWeek proves '90s were awesome with Supra, Stealth, RX-7, Corvette, 968, 300ZX comparo, Toyota engineer warns automous cars could increase fuel use, urban sprawl.