When car ads go wrong: 1999 Toyota Corolla

When car ads go wrong: 1999 Toyota Corolla

Sometimes car companies are in chronic denial about their cars or are trying just a little bit too hard. Like the 1999 Corolla ads…

Sometimes television commercials for cars go completely bonkers. Too much, too little, too abstract or there are people who look like they are simulating sexy times, like the recent BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe ad.

In 1999, Toyota’s marketing department attempted to improve the image of its evergreen bestseller with not one but two expensive-looking TVCs. They’re well-made, beautifully shot and even use Blur’s Song 2 (aka “Woo-hoo!”).

They’re also completely bonkers and just a little bit blue. But it seems back in 1999, this was all perfectly acceptable.

1999 Toyota Corolla Seca and Sedan


The 1999 Toyota Corolla was not an attractive machine. The Seca was a particular duffer. The front end was disastrously ugly and for some reason, the creative folks thought that this dreadful colour would help promote it.

The ad is full of some fairly questionable imagery. Straight up we have a water main bursting in a workman’s face who himself is looking a little too pleased to see what was not a particularly attractive car. We see at the end why he was perhaps a little hot under the collar because – surprise – there’s a pretty lady at the wheel.

Then there is the slightly inexplicable ice and fire juxtaposition as the hideously-coloured Seca drives past a hair salon. Bafflingly, ice suddenly falls from the sky while inside a customer’s hair is set alight. Presumably the hairdresser is an anarchist rioter.

Then a cyclist is basically monstered off the road and up a ramp. Luckily it seems like a 50-50 situation because he too is perving on the car and/or occupant. I’m going with the occupant. Then he shows off by doing a big jump and jettisons the bike. Did you see the Citroen DS in there, too? Cheeky. Also the best-looking car in the ad by far. Drawing that kind of comparison is pretty brave.

The car causes a stir in a cafe, although I’m not entirely sure why. The chap who gets a lap full of coffee deserves it just for the outfit. And why is the car on the wrong side of the double white lines?

Then the ghastly yellow car pulls to a stop, the driver checks the mirror for the mayhem she has caused and eyes up a gentleman who is at the boot of the even duller sedan. Then we see the ice was in fact water as the lady in the pink jacket huffs and puffs.

In today’s world, the young lady at the wheel would be hastily milkshake-ducked by the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail would suggest she was “flaunting her curls” as she climbs out of the car.

There are too many long reaches in this ad to cover here, but in Australia at least, this car is more remembered for the ad and not the driving experience.

1999 Corolla CSX


The ad for the weird-looking CSX, with its different front end and one of the earliest perforated mesh-style grilles I can remember, is thematically more consistent.

The team stuck with Blur’s instantly recognisable Song 2 and kicks off with a bunch of well-groomed adults goo-ing and gaa-ing over a young baby.

The theme of being “the centre of attention” is quite consistent as the ad’s male protagonist is the subject of first the attention of his sporting peers and then a series of attractive women.

Then we get a bunch of dynamic, moving shots that would all have been done in-camera. This sort of thing was the zeitgeist back then, with MTV having introduced the world to jump-cuts and mystifying cutaways.

The women seem surprised at the speed with which the Corolla is being conducted and I’m with them. It was a total slug. They also seem a little too excited to see the car – as with the first ad – but clearly this fellow was deemed “hot” in 1999.

Then we’re suddenly introduced to a new character, a blonde woman driving the same car the male was previously. It’s a strange, unexplained jump. As are the rather obvious set of headlights, if you get my drift. Perhaps the 1999 Corolla had extremely effective air-conditioning.

Then the bloke reappears right at the end, looking confused. Well, at least he understands the product.

Would they get away with this today?

Nope. Car ads are pretty boring these days, partly due to cost pressures, partly because of mithering bores (VW sent this up well in the VW Amarok spot). But these ads are sexist and this kind of leering sexism just isn’t on anymore. It was never cool (and there’s some stuff coming, let me tell you), but it’s forbidden in advertising now.

Thank goodness.

Anyway, that was kind of like watching the first Ghostbusters with your kids. You had forgotten how blue the first one was.

And put more Woo in Hoo you are? I hate it.

Got any other ads you can think of that are terrible? Let me know!