Some edgy marketing has landed Toyota in hot water with Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Jackson, a frequent critic of auto industry executives and practices, ripped into the Japanese automaker for distributing a postcard with a close-up of a smiling black face with a gold Toyota RAV4 glued to one tooth.
Toyota officials quickly apologized for the postcard, which even its own executives had decided was inappropriate even before Jackson denounced it as racist. "This is not a true reflection of our commitment to the minority community nor of our diversity efforts," said Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Division.
Jackson, who faces public image problems of his own in the wake of his admission of adultery and fathering a child outside his marriage, met with Toyota executives this week to discuss the postcard. After Jackson's visit to Torrance, executives from both Toyota and Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising agency that prepared and released the card, again apologized publicly to anyone who may have been offended by the promotion.
Both Toyota and Saatchi and Saatchi also promised to improve their multicultural marketing effort, Toyota representatives said. "The postcard was intended to communicate RAV4's styling to a youthful hip audience through an edgy style statement similar to tattoos and "body jewelry," Toyota representatives said.
The postcard, which was one of a series of three, was distributed via racks in nightclubs and dance clubs in a half dozen cities around the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. throughout April and early May, according to Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman.
The card actually was pulled ahead of time after some senior Toyota executives expressed concerns that some club customers might find the image offensive, he noted. Several thousand cards had already been destroyed by the time Jackson started his protest, added Michels, and after Rainbow/PUSH began its protests.
Jackson, meanwhile, vowed to continue to pressure Toyota and threatened the company with a nationwide boycott if it didn't mend its ways. Jackson agreed to hold off calling for a boycott and agreed to meet with Toyota officials in the next month.
One of the things Jackson demanded during the meeting was that Toyota fire Saatchi and Saatchi.
''The only thing missing is the watermelon,'' Jackson told reporters after meeting with Toyota officials. At least part of Toyota's $470 million advertising budget ought to go to minority-owned advertising firms, Jackson said.
Rainbow/PUSH representatives noted that Toyota and Saatchi and Saatchi have published offensive ads in the past. In 1998, Toyota ran a print ad in Jet Magazine with a caption that read ''unlike your last boyfriend, the Corolla goes to work every morning.'' After that ad was pulled, Rainbow/PUSH received assurances from Toyota that such ads wouldn't reappear, they noted.
Michels said the 1998 ad was aimed at the youthful, female readers of magazines such as Teen and Glamour and was inserted into Jet because of a mistake at Saatchi and Saatchi. Both Toyota and Saatchi and Saatchi apologized at the time, Michels noted.
Jackson also said Toyota had too few black and Hispanic dealers.
Doug West, Toyota senior vice president and chief administrative officer, described the meeting with Jackson as constructive and positive. "Toyota has a long-standing and positive relationship with Rainbow/PUSH and we welcomed the opportunity to strengthen that relationship today," West said in a statement issued after the meeting.
Toyota officials also said they were working on recruiting more African-American dealers. In the last three years, Toyota has boosted the number of minority-owned dealerships by more than 20 percent and African-American owned dealerships by 53 percent in the last three years.