Toyota regroups after ad furor

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Toyota Motor Sales USA, following an uproar over a promotional postcard that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/Push Coalition said demeans African-Americans, is working with Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., to study how to handle African-American advertising.

The Rev. Jackson last week called for the carmaker to yank the postcard, which shows a smiling mouth displaying tooth jewelry-a gold inset of its RAV4 sport utility vehicle (see art on cover). Toyota issued a public apology the day after the Rev. Jackson's press conference, and promptly pulled the execution. The sides then met May 23, and agreed to meet again in a month for further discussions.

At last week's meeting, the Rev. Jackson demanded Toyota hire an African-American agency, and that it add more minority dealers and minorities to its board. The Rev. Jackson said Toyota ignored its urging in a February 1999 letter to hire more diverse ad agencies, "to avoid culturally insensitive" campaigns.

Saatchi's Conill Advertising, New York and Torrance, Calif., handles Toyota's Hispanic account. An informal group of staffers inside Saatchi currently handles Toyota's African-American work.

Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at the Toyota Division, said it's too early to say whether the auto maker would hold a review for a separate African-American agency or ask Saatchi to form a dedicated group. "We've been looking to expand our work in that environment" before last week's incident, he stated.

The automaker said it has been a longtime supporter of more than 33 minority organizations. A spokesman told Advertising Age Toyota has contributed roughly $100,000 to Rainbow/Push in the last four years.

The postcard was one of three aimed at 18-to-34-year-old prospects. Toyota said the intent of the postcards was "to present the new RAV4 sport utility vehicle as a style statement. ... As an emerging trend, tooth art is associated with other leading-edge fashion statements, such as body jewelry and tattoos."

In early 1999, Toyota issued a public apology for a Corolla ad in Jet. The headline said: "Unlike your last boyfriend, it goes to work in the morning."

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