REVIEW OF PROMOTIONAL CD-ROM: "TOYOTA RAV4, DREAM MACHINE"This CD-ROM is one facet of the advertising blitz for the roll-out of Toyota's new 4-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle, the RAV4. This copy of the CD-ROM was procured from a Toyota dealership in San Francisco and is, to the best of my knowledge, available wherever the RAV4 is sold in the U.S. This review will focus on the CD-ROM's navigational structure, user-interface, exploitation of the medium, and style of presentation.
The manner in which this promotional CD presents its propaganda-through dreams people have about the RAV4-- is introduced to the user through a non-interactive and obligatory sequence that unfolds once the CD is started, which begins with a brilliant sunset and a deep, soothing voice that invites the user to enter a dreamworld where he or she is "having a dream... a dream about something to drive." After the voice has spoken to the user, the sun sets, the planets and stars become visible, and an RAV4 materializes, and drives through what appears to be the Solar System. As the RAV4 cruises past the planets, the previously subtle hip-hop beat grows louder. Rounding Jupiter, the RAV4 (and its still captive audience, the user) encounters a large portrait of Leonardo da Vinci within a gilded frame, floating through space-- but a hint of the off-beat creativity that follows.
After this bizarre introductory sequence, the user is placed in the organizational center of the CD-ROM presentation, which is called the "RAV4 Dream Depot." Visually, the "Dream Depot," is a 3-D courtyard comprised of marble patio-stone, Roman architectural remnants, and six doorways. The user learns that by passing through a doorway, a different dream sequence can be experienced, each of which is nominally related to features of the RAV4 and, in actuality, more closely connected to the themes of the advertising campaign, e.g., "Power." The doorways are titled: RAV4 Dreamkit (create your own RAV4), Inspiration (RAV4 style), Security (RAV4 safety), Power (RAV4 performance), The Infosphere (RAV4 facts), and Freedom (RAV4 versatility). To enter the dream-sequence titled "Inspiration (RAV4 style)," the user would move, by clicking and dragging the mouse in the appropriate direction, through the doorway labeled "Inspiration" (illustrated to right).
For the most part, the CD does not suffer from excessively complex navigational structure (a common problem with CD-ROM products), in that it has basically two levels once the user is ushered through the introduction; the user is either within the "RAV4 Dream Depot" or within one of the six dream-sequences that can be reached from the "Dream Depot." After partaking in each dream-sequence, the user is re-deposited into the "Dream Depot."
The user interface of this CD-ROM was acceptable, for the most part, but was clearly not the product of the engineering team that handles the ergonomics of Toyota's auto interiors. The user-interface of the CD-ROM was less sleek than might be hoped for, and not at all reminiscent in this regard of the product it was designed to promote.
The most annoying thing about the CD-ROM was that the number of clicks required to engage the click-buttons varied from screen to screen. For example, clicking once on any of the main buttons ("next" or "done") on the "taskbar" at the bottom of the "RAV4 Dream Depot" screen did nothing. To progress from the "RAV4 Dream Depot" map to the next screen featuring 3-D navigation, I had to click the "done" button twice, that is, unless I was moving to the 3-D screen for the second time, in which case I was only required to click it once. Exiting the program entirely was also (and by design, I'm sure) an arduous process, requiring a total of eight mouse clicks.
The second major interface problem was that icons frequently appeared on the screens that did not respond to mouse clicks. For the most part, the icons were non-functional graphical representations of the choices appearing on the task bar at the bottom of the screen, which seemed to me an unnecessary source of confusion.
EXPLOITATION OF THE MEDIUM
Much of the substance of this CD-ROM could have been provided to the user through more conventional media forms, such as video or printed documents, in the sense that the CD-ROM presented most information in a fairly conventional, linear style. In most cases, interactivity was limited to simple database functions, which could be engaged by using the push buttons that appeared on the picture of the RAV4 at the end of each dream sequence; for example, clicking on a push button, e.g., "tires", would call up and display additional information about that topic. However, there were several parts of the CD that provided experiences for the user that would not have been available through conventional media forms. The unique medium of the CD-ROM (unique in my mind in being user-driven and image-rich) was exploited, to greatest effect, in the navigable, 3-D spaces that were constructed within several of the dream sequences.
Most notable among these was a 3-D space within the "Infosphere (RAV4 facts)" that represented a 360 degree view of the interior of the RAV4. By clicking and dragging with the mouse, and using the "shift" and "control" keys, I was able to roam about the interior of the vehicle (pictured at right), changing perspective, and zooming in on those parts of the interior that were most interesting to me. I found this part of the CD-ROM to be incredibly useful, and lifelike, and much more informative about the product itself than most of the rest of the CD (which is largely focused on the "coolness" of the RAV4 and its owners, rather than the vehicle's technical features). I felt, after experiencing the 3-D space of the "Infosphere," that I had been inside the RAV4. In fact, it was more than that. I had an emotional, rather than analytical, response to the information I received about the interior of the vehicle. Because I had already imagined myself as an owner of the RAV4, if I had gone to a Toyota dealership, I would have been an easy target. That these emotional attachments formed -- without my going to the showroom floor, and without my sitting in an actual RAV4 -- is a tribute to the producers' use of the medium.
STYLE OF PRESENTATION
In analyzing the way in which messages are presented in this CD-ROM, it is evident that the producers of the CD (Carbiner Communications and Toyota) were able to throw caution to the wind, for at least two reasons. First, the medium of the CD-ROM allowed them to create sequences that would not appeal to everyone, reasoning that users would view the CD-ROM selectively. For example, those who wanted to be inspired by the style of the RAV4, would select the "Inspiration (RAV4 style)" dream sequence, and those who wanted mostly technical details would select the "Infosphere (RAV4 facts)" dream sequence. Second, the producers must have conducted studies that indicated that the group of people requesting the multimedia promotional package for the RAV4 would be, on average, educated, young (in fact, or at heart), irreverent, and interested in looking "hip" rather than looking like "part of the establishment." Packaging the promotional material on a CD-ROM allowed the producers to predict their audience with a high level of accuracy.
I can't imagine that the wackier parts of this CD-ROM would ever appear in the more mainstream advertising media, such as television or newspaper. Broader audiences have to be considered when using more universally available forms of media (such as television), and this precludes, to some extent, the types of ultra-specific cultural commentary prevalent in this CD-ROM. My mind is still reeling from the strangeness of the "Security (RAV4 safety)" dream sequence (screen-shot at right) in which the RAV4, among other things, drives up and is subsequently licked by a giant puppy. The driver declares that, although she is confident the side-impact beams of the RAV4 will withstand the puppy's tongue-lashing, she is not sure the anti-corrosion package was designed with puppy saliva in mind. The scene ends with the narrator declaring that the puppy (who was shrunk back to normal size by a gigantic dog-catcher) and the woman driving the RAV4 lived "happily ever after," but shows them driving off into a giant cat's open mouth. Though this dream sequence sounds sort of "cutesy" when described with words, the multimedia experience as a whole (including music, spoken narration, and strange illustrations) is primarily ironic, and leaves the user feeling proud that he or she is disaffected enough (with mainstream culture) to discern some of the deep meanings of the advertisement.
The "Inspiration (RAV4 style)" dream sequence is another good example of a narrowly conceived sequence that would not appeal to everyone, but that does not have to because of the versatility of the format. In this dream sequence, the first part of which is essentially linear and non-interactive, the user is invited to pretend that he or she is the editor of Art Snob Magazine. The user drives over to Leonardo da Vinci's house, and insults his sketches of a helicopter, saying "Yo, Lenny, that thing'll never fly- and besides, it looks like heck!" The user then drives to the Sistine Chapel, finds Michelangelo, and says, "Yo, Mike, what's with the painting on the ceiling? It's givin' me a big-time sore neck." By the time this sequence is over, Vincent Van Gogh's work has been reduced to rubble, and Leonardo da Vinci, convinced that his previous ideas were lousy, can be seen sketching an RAV4 on his drawing board. What this says about the RAV4, I have no idea. But the beauty of the medium is that you don't have to appeal to everyone at once, and some people may be much more interested in the cultural significance of the RAV4 than in the size of its gas tank.
After using this CD-ROM for hours on end, I realized the potency of ultra-targeted advertising campaigns. I learned what I wanted to learn about the RAV4, and spent a lot more time doing it than I would have using other, more conventional advertising media. I was able to take all of the producer's messages about the RAV4, and assemble them in the way that was most interesting to me. I was able to disregard the parts of the presentation that I thought were stupid, and play around for hours with those I liked. Modes of advertising that feature highly customizable presentational styles and messages are undoubtedly powerful, and will require that consumers develop entirely new methods of resistance. I know I found my resistance lacking. Fortunately, you still have to go to the dealer to buy one.