Blacks and Toyota

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(NNPA)—A scrap has broken out between the world’s largest automobile manufacturer and the Black Press of America. The Black publishers’ issues involve “race, respect and reciprocity.” Earlier this year, Toyota ran a series of full-page “Thank you” adverts to its American consumers, but those messages only ran in mainstream newspapers and not in any of the nation’s Black newspapers.

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The Black Press of America has embarked upon a campaign to get companies that sell to Black American consumers to recognize the value of using their publications as advertising mediums. To sell automotive advertisers on using their publications will involve the publishers getting measurable support from their readers. According to automotive marketing research data: Black consumers are 10 percent of Toyota’s American market share and 15 out of every 100 vehicles that Blacks buy is a Toyota.

The crux of the conversation the Black publishers want to have with Toyota management revolves around recognition and reciprocity. New York Beacon publisher Walter Smith accuses Toyota of “a long history of insulting and ignoring African-Americans.” Those publishers say “Black Americans represent a multi-billion dollar market, automotive manufacturers should want to retain” and that their newspapers represent a way to reach these consumers.

Toyota is already reaching many Black consumers. In 2010, Toyota brands accounted for 15 percent of all new car sales to African-Americans. After Toyota, Blacks bought Fords second, 11.7 percent; followed by Chevrolet, 11.4 percent; Honda 11.3 percent; and Nissan, 10.2 percent. Though these automobile manufacturers captured nearly 60 percent of African-Americans’ vehicle purchases; media operators such as Smith contend that it’s “a struggle to convince advertisers that the Black community is worth their money.” It’s important to do the math: last year, Toyota made $2.2 billion from Black Americans’ purchases of their vehicles, but Toyota only paid Black advertisers $66 million to promote their products.

What is happening in regard to “Diversity Marketing” at Toyota and across the automotive industry? The boon Black media operators enjoyed from “Diversity Marketing” programs that car companies used to reach new audiences in the 1980s-2000s are definitely on the wane. During the past 50 years, the importance of Blacks as consumers increased. Automakers poured substantial money into diversity programs and hired agencies and specialists to market their products to Blacks.

The National Association of Market Developers, Inc. was created in 1953 to design and implement specialized marketing and public relations programs toward Negro consumers. From the 1940s to the 1980s, companies began to bring their full marketing strategies to bear upon gaining acceptance and marketplace advantage with the African-American market. More companies began to place advertisements in Black media. Pat Tobin became a fixture at Black conventions and events representing Toyota after the 1987 comments made by Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone that disparaged African-Americans. Tobin worked on brand building, community relations and publicizing Toyota in ethnic communities for more than 20 years. Someone like Tobin is needed again to educate the company and its culture on ways to reach and respect Black audiences.

“What we see today is that minority-owned media firms do not receive a fair share of corporate and governmental advertising expenditures,” that’s what Rev. Al Sharpton said when he formed the Madison Avenue Initiative. It’s a subject Black publishers aren’t alone in singing. Sharpton and other civil rights leaders have been pushing companies to make advertising purchases equaling the level of minority customer patronage of their products. Toyota and other major automotive manufacturers would do well to use Black media specialists to reach African-American consumers with language and content that resonates among them.

According to Advertising Age, ad spending on African-American media remains about $75 million versus almost $10 billion for advertising in mainstream media. It is hopeful that respectful and earnest negotiations between the Black publishers and Toyota will produce an agreement that can serve as a standard for the industry.

Black newspaper operators need to hear from allies of every race on this matter.

(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org.)

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