When it comes to social media marketing, Ford showed the auto world how it's done back in 2010. The company's Fiesta Movement recruited perky, camera-ready cool kids to talk about the Fiesta through blog posts, photos, and videos. The campaign was so successful that 60% of Americans knew about the snappy new car before it arrived in showrooms.

But the Fiesta Movement was publicity for publicity's sake: it didn't really have any charitable aims. Not so with a new campaign touting the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. 

The Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge pits nonprofits against one another as they compete for a range of prizes. For 30 days, each has the use of a 2013 Prius Plug-In, which they must drive at least 500 miles during the month, with a minimum of 75 miles per week. (As with the Fiesta Movement, participants are also expected to document their travels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)

At the end of 30 days, the nonprofit whose Prius has earned the highest MPG receives a $2,500 contribution from Toyota. Second- and third-place finishers get $1,000 and $500, respectively, and every participating charity receives a $200 gas card.

The first of the Challenge's five waves has just begun. Competing organizations are located in the New York tri-state area and include nonprofits as diverse as the Greyston Foundation (which "uses entrepreneurship to solve the problems of the inner city and reduce reliance on external funding sources") and GlamourGals (which has a mission "to inspire and organize teens to provide ongoing complimentary beauty makeovers and companionship to women living in senior homes").


On the one hand, this seems like a great opportunity for Toyota to do a little good while raising awareness of the Prius Plug-In -- especially among the Prius brand's base of socially aware consumers. And apart from fuel costs, the Challenge gives participating nonprofits free use of a new car for a full month, theoretically enhancing their ability to do work in their communities.

On the other hand, the prizes that participants receive add up to $20,000 -- less than two-thirds the cost of a brand new Toyota Prius Plug-In. We know that Toyota has a philanthropic side, but this probably isn't the best view of it. 


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