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.
When Toyota wanted our help, it had no problem seeking all 200 Black newspapers in America to do just that. Their message to Black people was “Please help us, we value your business.” We do not want Toyota to use us for editorial coverage and then overlook us with their advertising dollars.
Black newspapers are not afraid to demand fair representation and a seat to dine at Toyota’s table, especially when their food is purchased with approximately 10 percent of Black consumer dollars.
We are not interested in fighting with Toyota, however; Toyota has enjoyed healthy African-American consumer support, and despite last year’s setback we have remained loyal. If you want to thank Black consumers for our loyalty and keep our business, do it on the pages of the Black newspapers that Black people read, respect, trust and own! As Chairman of the NNPA, I represent 200 Black publishers from across America. I am challenging Toyota’s chairman and CEO to do the right thing and meet with me to discuss the future of their relationship with Black consumers, and whether we, as Black newspaper publishers, should continue supporting Toyota or organize a campaign to take the African-American’s brand loyalty to Toyota elsewhere. We will not buy where we are disrespected; that is a promise! Danny Bakewell Sr. is the Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, parent organization to more than 200 independently owned Black newspapers.