Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

Making WAVES everywhere: Watch how this para-athlete made a statement in the 2021 Super Bowl! [Thursday: Gorillas of Guerrilla Marketing]

September 13, 2023

Miles Everson’s The Business Builder Daily speaks to the heart of what great marketers, business leaders, and other professionals need to succeed in advertising, communications, managing their investments, career strategy, and more. 

A Note from Miles Everson:

Guerilla marketing is something I’m really fond of! 

For those of you who might not be familiar with it yet, guerrilla marketing is an unconventional marketing method encompassing imaginative and enjoyable tactics to advertise a product or brand.

Today, we will explore another example of such campaigns. 

Are you ready?

Gain insight into how this automobile manufacturer maximized one of the most anticipated sports events in 2021 to capture the hearts of fans across the globe. 

Miles Everson
CEO, MBO Partners
Chairman of the Advisory Board, The I Institute

Gorillas of Guerrilla Marketing 

Each year, amid the depths of winter, a remarkable occurrence takes place, causing the entire U.S. to pause and showcase an unparalleled wave of enthusiasm: 

The Super Bowl!

This monumental affair surpasses the confines of a mere football game; it emerges as a cultural marvel, a demonstration of skill and athleticism.

On top of that, the “Big Game” is renowned for serving as a stage for innovative commercials. 

… and among the numerous enterprises that seized the opportunity in the 2021 NFL season, automotive manufacturer Toyota stood out prominently. Why? 

Because of its one-of-a-kind marketing strategy. 

The “Upstream” Campaign

Photo from Toyota

Looking back on the 2021 Super Bowl season, it wasn’t just about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking home the championship. It also stood out as the year when Toyota shook things up by releasing its most unique commercial ever.

With over 25,000 people in the audience, Toyota showcased Paralympian Jessica Long in an emotional 60-second short film titled, “Upstream.”

Long, who lost both her legs as a baby, has become quite a sensation. She has competed in the Paralympics four times in swimming and won 23 medals, making her the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history.

Wow, that’s A LOT of achievements! 

Photo from Toyota

The short film took viewers on a trip down memory lane of Long’s childhood, from her adoption by an American couple to her triumphant victories in Olympic competitions.

This strategic maneuver by Toyota defied traditional marketing ideas, making the short film distinct and impactful.

Resonating deeply with the football fans, the commercial wrapped up with a moving line:

“We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.”

As a car maker, Toyota’s “Upstream” ad mirrors its innovation in automobile design and engineering. By putting a spotlight on a Paralympian, Toyota was able to highlight its dedication to making vehicles for various needs and preferences.

A top-notch strategy, indeed!

Was Toyota’s “Upstream” campaign effective?

The 2021 “Upstream” ad by Toyota went beyond being a mere commercial; it also resonated with global audiences as it honored the resilient spirit of Long, who stands tall as one of the most accomplished para-athletes worldwide.

Moreover, the campaign created quite a stir across various platforms, further extending its reach to a broader audience.

Here are some impressive results of the campaign: 

  • The campaign achieved more than 25 million impressions on Twitter during the span of the 2021 NFL season. 
  • The “Upstream” advertisement resulted in over 125 million Facebook engagements across the entirety of the 2021 Super Bowl season.
  • During the span of the 2021 NFL, the short film produced a total of 1.6 billion media impressions.
  • 63% of viewers at the Super Bowl 2021 had an intense emotional response to the short film. 
  • According to Unruly (an advertising platform), “Upstream” was the most inspiring of all the 2021 Super Bowl ads tested.
  • “Upstream” also claimed the top spot in Unruly‘s ranking of the best ads from the Super Bowl in 2021.

Clearly, these outcomes and accolades speak volumes about the impact of Toyota’s “Upstream” campaign. It not only captured global interest but also established a lasting legacy for the car brand!


Every moment of the “Upstream” campaign vividly reflected Toyota’s commitment to “Respect for People.” In fact, there are at least 2 things you can learn from the short film: 

  • Transforming challenges into triumph.

Transitioning from the adversity of being a double amputee since birth to achieving the status of a record-breaking Paralympian, Long’s voyage enlightened viewers that obstacles aren’t impassable barriers; they’re chances for personal evolution!

Meanwhile, Toyota’s decision to feature Long in its NFL commercial shows the company’s dedication to diversity and inclusivity. By featuring a differently-abled athlete, Toyota challenged prevailing societal norms and commemorated individual uniqueness.

  • Embracing challenges and vulnerability.

In a world that often ties strength to invulnerability, “Upstream” redefined vulnerability as a source of strength.

The emotional connection “Upstream” has yielded extends beyond the concept of Toyota simply selling cars; it also strengthened the perception that Toyota is a brand that’s truly concerned about its customers’ stories and journeys.

This shift from selling to storytelling helped Toyota forge a more profound and lasting connection with its target audience.

Overall, the “Upstream” story encouraged viewers to keep moving forward, even when progress seems slow.

As Lisa Materazzo, Toyota Motor’s Group VP for Marketing, stated:

“‘Upstream’ highlights Toyota’s mission to shine a light on athletes like Jessica, who work tirelessly every day to pursue their passion and inspire people around the world to reach their full potential.”

Toyota’s “Upstream” campaign didn’t simply vanish after the Super Bowl. Instead, the film etched a lasting impression on its viewers and served as a testament that brands can significantly shape cultural narratives and promote positive change.

As audiences continue to seek authenticity and connection in advertising, Toyota’s approach is a notable exhibition of how a single ad can embody a company’s ideals and leave an impact on people’s hearts and minds.

So, expand your thinking and develop unique marketing strategies to apply to your own business venture! Just like Toyota, you can also gain your target market’s trust and respect if you first demonstrate these values to them.

We hope today’s guerrilla marketing spotlight empowered you!

(This article is from The Business Builder Daily, a newsletter by The I Institute in collaboration with MBO Partners.)

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Thursdays: Gorillas of Guerrilla Marketing”

Jay Conrad Levinson (1984) said that Guerrilla Marketing “works because it’s simple to appreciate, easy to execute, and inexpensive.”

Guerrilla Marketing is unconventional.

Looking beyond the traditional ways of advertising, marketers, and advertisers need to spice things up in order for their brand to have campaigns that not only make an impact but also stick to their target market’s mind.

Guerrilla Marketing usually aims to have direct contact with consumers.

This type of direct contact should spark an emotional reaction that leads to consumers effectively remembering the brand.

It’s about making a big impression and making that impression last a long time (if not forever).

Guerrilla Marketing can be inexpensive.

The effect of this is being able to create a buzz around the brand, and the strategy used to market it. Almost everything is passed around through word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is one of the greatest outcomes and it usually doesn’t cost anything.

This is every business’ or brand’s dream!

Every Thursday, we publish tips, examples, and other useful content on unconventional ways of marketing and promotion.

Learn more about how to grab your target market’s attention and make an amazing first and lasting impression without having to spend a lot of money.

Businesses don’t really need to spend much for a guerrilla campaign. You do not need a big budget to be successful. You just need creativity and a good imagination.

Hope you’ve found this week’s guerrilla marketing insight interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Thursday’s Gorillas of Guerrilla Marketing!


Kyle Yu 
Head of Marketing 
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities 
Powered by Valens Research

View All

You don’t have access to the Valens Research Premium Application.

To get access to our best content including the highly regarded Conviction Long List and Market Phase Cycle macro newsletter, please contact our Client Relations Team at 630-841-0683 or email client.relations@valens-research.com.

Please fill out the fields below so that our client relations team can contact you

Or contact our Client Relationship Team at 630-841-0683