Toyota close to selecting black agency

How would you market the new 2002 Camry?

That’s what Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is asking six black advertising agencies that are semifinalists in the company’s search for a black-owned agency.

Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota Division, said the agencies have been asked to present their strategies for marketing the Camry to blacks.

The assignment is challenging because Camry is Toyota’s best-selling vehicle. Esmond wants a campaign that reflects emotion as well as Camry’s reputation for quality.

“We are looking for a full service agency,” Esmond said. “We are looking for someone that can go out there and take a hard look at the market, make recommendations in terms of where we ought to be and what mediums we ought to use. We are looking at someone who can go way beyond advertising to lifestyles and promotions.”

Toyota expects to choose three finalists within the next two weeks and a winner by the end of September.

The winner would be Toyota’s first black agency. Toyota has used Saatchi & Saatchi for its black ad campaigns. But recently two Saatchi-produced ads have offended the black community. The most recent controversy centered on a postcard featuring a smiling black man with a gold Toyota RAV4 on his tooth.

Since then, Toyota has promised to invest $7.8 billion into diversity efforts, including recruiting more minority dealers, employing a black agency and spending $50 million in ethnic media. The company said it spent $36.5 million on ethnic ads in 2001.

None of the six finalists have an auto account, according to Esmond, who said Toyota is expected to make a decision by the end of September.

Two sources say Publicis Group’s Burrell Communications in Chicago is the leading candidate for the account. Burrell’s client list includes McDonald’s, Sears, Coca-Cola and Verizon Wireless. Publicis owns Toyota’s general market agency Saatchi & Saatchi and 49 percent of Burrell.

You can reach Laura Clark Geist at autonews@crain.com

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