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Automotive News | October 2, 2009 - 4:03 pm EST
DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Sales USA and its ad agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, engaged in a bizarre, online "terror marketing campaign" that frightened and harassed thousands of consumers via e-mails, according to a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles.
The suit claims the online effort, dreamed up by Saatchi to create buzz for the youth-targeted Toyota Matrix, involved a series of e-mails last year to plaintiff Amber Duick from the fictitious Brit Sebastian Bowler, who had moved to the U.S.
A Toyota spokesman said the automaker doesn't comment on pending litigation. Kurt Ritter, chairman of Saatchi's west coast operations, did not return an e-mail or phone call for comment.
Bowler's digital missives to Duick indicated he knew her, knew her address and was coming with his pit bull, Trigger, to stay with her to avoid the cops. In his second e-mail to her, Bowler listed his MySpace page, which is still up (although it says he last logged in June 2008).
His video and pictures on MySpace "depict Mr. Bowler as a fanatical English soccer fan who enjoyed drinking alcohol to excess," the suit says. His MySpace page also shows a photo with an arrow pointing to "me" and the caption "my mate took this photo which shows me right before the riot."
One of the nine e-mails to Duick, the suit alleges, was a bill for $78.92 from a motel for Bowler's one-night stay there, plus damage to a TV set and picture frame. He had listed her as a reference and told the motel to send her the bill, the complaint says.
"My client was terrified," said her Los Angeles attorney Nicholas Tepper. "She slept with a machete next to her bed and she slept with mace. She could barely sleep or eat normally."
The suit says "she became physically ill" because she was convinced "a disturbed and aggressive" stranger was en route to her house.
Tepper said laws lag technology.
"The technology comes first and morality and guidelines seem to follow." Tepper said a friend of Duick's sent her an e-mail for a personality test called "The Other You" that triggered the blitz.
The final e-mail had a link to a video that showed Bowler driving into a drive-in movie where the film "Imbecile" was playing. The out-of-focus film shows an old man laughing continuously, revealing to Duick that "she had been punked" and all the e-mails were part of an ad campaign for the Matrix, the suit claims.