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  • Michael Spencer

Soundings: Web Audio Research – Toyota

Extending our research into how companies use sound on the web.  This month we look at Toyota

Toyota is justifiably proud of its new car engine technology which combines petrol and electrical power sources. It has lumbered itself with a ‘geeky’ name for it, however. And then it has lumbered itself with a bizarre mix of multi-media web pages in an attempt to… Well it’s never quite clear, really.

Audio is an integral part of the presentation on every page, usually driven by flash animation, often with further pop-up pages embedded, each with their own animation. Of the four landing page menu choices, two lead more or less to the same place, but the sub-sites are otherwise unrelated in terms of design, configuration and content.

It is Toyota’s approach to the speaking voice which is most baffling. Commentary is provided by a male or female voice speaking received pronunciation – ‘correct’, accent-less English – rather slowly. Somewhat reminiscent of a 1960s radio ad. The commentaries are accompanied by scrolling text. The effect is to transport the (UK) visitor into a sort of broadcasting time-warp. Moreover, although the pages are available in several languages, the English speaking voices remain. Given the considerable web design budget which must have been agreed, why are the non-English sites not overdubbed appropriately?

Another sub-site (‘Reasons to Choose’) consists of cartoon animations featuring a couple of American-speaking children, obviously spoken by actors, being ‘interviewed’ by a radio commentator. It is difficult to determine whether the caricature figures and stilted delivery is meant to be a deliberately ironic throwback or an attempt at interesting young people in the hybrid synergy drive. It is certainly difficult to remember much about the product from listening to the rambling, inept dialogue.

Much the same could be said of the final sub-site, ‘Many Reasons’, which consists of a series of click-select vox pop comments supporting the Toyota brand.

Audio fidelity is often compromised by the poor quality of the telephone line and many of the unedited contributions come across as rambling and inarticulate. At least we have a variety of languages, however, Toyota deserves

credit for exploring the full range of audio possibilities its Hybrid Synergy Drive sites. A pity, though, that in execution, it seems so often to have missed the target.

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