GUEST EDITORIAL: Message to Mr. Toyota

DANNY J. BAKEWELL SR. | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

I have recently been shocked and appalled by ads that I and other Black publishers have seen in several major newspapers (The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.) confirming that Toyota spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise in white mainstream daily newspapers "thanking" general market consumers for their loyalty and patronage to Toyota during a time of major controversy and concerns over the safety of Toyota's vehicles.

Thanking their customers is a smart move on Toyota's behalf, and one that I applaud. However, we can't overlook the fact that Black people represent almost 10 percent of Toyota's American market share. With a $1.2 billion annual advertising budget, it is not unreasonable for the Black press to expect to have a stake in Toyota's advertising (including Black advertising agencies). Nevertheless, Black newspapers were left off of Toyota's latest marketing campaign, sending a clear and direct message that the Black consumer is still being taken for granted and that Black people are still being disrespected and undervalued. This is disappointing behavior from a company that was all too eager to send us their press releases and ask us to write stories and editorials to influence Black America to stay with them in their time of trouble. Now that Toyota's pain has been eased (for now) by a report issued by the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) and NASA that found no faults with Toyota's electronic accelerator controls, the Black press has once again been forgotten, along with the Black consumer.

Toyota should note that it is going to take more than a passing grade on an FTA report card to bring back the consumer safety confidence that it enjoyed for years from American consumers before one of the largest vehicle recalls in U.S. history.

So when the decision was made to advertise in mainstream newspapers from coast to coast "thanking" their customers for their loyalty, where was Toyota's loyalty to the 10 percent who are African-American consumers? Don't we also deserve a great big "Thank you"?

Historically, there has always been an imbalance between what goes out of the Black community and what comes in to the Black community relative to retail goods, services and representation. This despite the fact that the buying power of America's Blacks is reported to be roughly $1 trillion this year! It is highly doubtful that Black-owned businesses will report revenue numbers that are the same and/or reap any of the benefits proportionate to our buying power.

However, the question still remains: Why is Toyota undervaluing the Black consumer and showing our community such blatant disrespect? Tried, True and Tested: The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA--Black Press of America) remains the gatekeeper for reaching the Black community. Corporations and advertising agencies wanting and needing to reach the African-American consumer must understand the relationship of the Black press to Black people. They must remember to place their advertising messages on the pages of Black newspapers throughout America, so Black consumers will respond in kind (Black advertising agencies could help them with this). The days of being silent and complaining among ourselves about these unethical and immoral business practices are over.