"DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Toyota Motor Sales USA has edited a two-week-old online promotion to eliminate scenes that show a young man chewing peyote cactus and hallucinating having an adventure in a Scion vehicle, the company said.
The move comes after AdAge.com queried the automaker about the propriety of including images of mescaline use in advertisements aimed at the young demographic specifically targeted by Scion marketing campaigns.
DEA Schedule I drug
Mescaline -- the psychotropic drug Peyote contains -- is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same classification as heroin and LSD. It is routinely ingested by chewing raw or dried parts of the peyote cactus. A typical dose of peyote causes hallucinations that last about 12 hours, according to the DEA.
The cartoons, called "303 Caliber," were launched two weeks ago on Scion's Web site (www.wanttC.com) to promote the Scion tC model. Animated Webisodes feature four young characters on the road in a Scion tC. In the "Tina Returns" Webisode, the three male characters are walking along the side of a desert highway. One young man chews parts of a peyote cactus, and his face, mannerisms and voice change in a way that typically occurs after mescaline ingestion. After they get back in the Scion, the young man's graphically vivid hallucinations and malapropisms become major elements in the continuing plot of the story.
Scion's advertising agency, Attik of San Francisco, commissioned Australia's Ambience Entertainment in Sydney to create the animated series about three multicultural young men and a young woman. The Web site launch was promoted to 1 million people via e-mail blasts and a half million 3-D lenticular postcards.
White House Drug Office
In Washington, after viewing the online Webisodes of "303 Caliber," Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said it was "offensive" that Toyota would make a joke out of drug use in its car promotions. "Marketing the abuse of dangerous substances to young people isn't funny," he said.
When initially contacted by AdAge.com early last week, Scion's marketing headquarters in Torrance, Calif., downplayed the role of the Webisode's peyote-related sections. Dawn Ahmed, national ad manager, said the character's hallucinations were "just from being out in the desert without food or water" and that the automaker wasn't promoting illicit drug use.
By the end of the week, a Toyota spokesman told AdAge.com the cactus scene would be edited out. "This one sort of slipped through," the spokesman said.
The peyote Webisode was subject to a mandatory internal review and approval by both Toyota's Diversity Group and legal staff, according to the spokesman. Toyota said it had not received any consumer complaints about the matter.
The spokesman said the "more senior people" at the marketer recognized the potential "misunderstanding" of the peyote scenes and had to explain it to the young associates there.
Adrian Si, interactive marketing manager at Scion, said it wasn't the advertiser's intent to tie the hallucinations with the peyote, admitting he understands the film could be interpreted that way.