Report: Toyota Dealers Pull Ads to 'Punish' Recall Coverage

Posted: Feb 09, 2010 10:32 a.m.

Some Toyota dealers are not happy with heavy media coverage of the company’s recent reliability problems.  The world’s largest Toyota dealership group is reportedly taking action by pulling advertising from media outlets that have given the company’s recent safety recalls heavy coverage.

Autoblog reports, “Southeast Toyota, which is the largest franchised distributor of Toyota vehicles in the world with 173 dealers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina & South Carolina, has reportedly pulled all of its advertising from local ABC stations.”  The Toyota Motor Company wasn’t involved in the decision.

The AFP reports, “The advertising agency representing the 173 dealers told the affiliates last week that the move was prompted by ‘excessive stories on the Toyota issues.’”  A station manager told the AFP the dealerships had “shifted their commercial spots to non-ABC stations in the same US markets,” as “punishment for the reporting,"

USA Today notes, “So far, Toyota hasn't publicly complained that any of the ABC reports were factually incorrect.”

The stations appear undaunted.  Brian Ross, the investigative reporter behind most of ABC’s Toyota recall stories, told the New York Times, “I got e-mail messages from several of the ABC stations that lost advertising, and what they said is ‘keep going’ and ‘don’t worry about it.’ We knew that what we were reporting could possibly lead to a loss of advertising dollars, and nobody at ABC batted an eye.”

There is a precedent for the move.  USA Today notes, “The move is reminiscent of former GM CEO Rick Wagoner's move to cut off ads in the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago after an auto reviewer ticked off a litany of the automaker's shortcomings.”  That boycott “almost certainly wounded the L.A. Times' finances, but the newspaper never backed away. And, of course, we all know how GM ended up last year -- in bankrutpcy proceedings.”

And, of course, the move could generate negative publicity for the dealerships – articles in the New York Times and USA Today explaining the tactic, for example.  That may be why the dealership group’s advertising agency is backing away from responsibility for its client’s decision.  “We have counseled the client on the pros and cons of this,” an agency spokesperson told the AFP, “and ultimately it was their decision to make.”

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