Vehicle marketing launches may be postponed as most automakers take some sort of hiatus from advertising during the war with Iraq.
Some automakers have pulled out of broadcast and cable TV networks, especially during news programming. Automotive executives say they will monitor the climate and return when appropriate.
But some aren't changing a thing. They have kept such high-profile media commitments as the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which CBS moved to sibling ESPN, and ABC's coverage of the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 23. AutoTrader.com debuted a commercial Thursday during the NCAA tournament.
Garry Neal, CEO of McCann-Erickson Detroit, which handles General Motors corporate and Buick advertising, says he does not think the mood of the public is as somber as it was after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"With 9/ll, there was no advanced warning and we were attacked. This conflict is far away and we are the aggressor," Neal says. "I think consumers believe that we will get through this one quickly and get back to business soon. We're counseling our clients just to monitor the situation and be prepared to get back to business quickly."
GM, the nation's largest advertiser, planned to continue advertising during regularly scheduled programming on all TV networks and to stay in newsweeklies, a spokeswoman says.
Newsweeklies are feeling the pullback by other automakers, but most monthly magazines aren't hurting yet. Only GM has scaled back from Conde Nast titles, which include Vogue, Architectural Digest and Wired, says a source inside the publishing company who asked to remain anonymous. But that has more to do with the automaker's budget cut than the war, the source says.
Honda, Toyota prepare for setbacks
Auto brands including Honda and Toyota are concerned that the war could hinder their vehicle launches.
Eric Conn, assistant vice president of advertising for American Honda Motor Co., says his planned ad launch in about a month for Acura's TSX sports sedan may be delayed, depending on the war's progress.
Honda and Mercedes-Benz USA on Thursday pulled ads from all media it could for seven days. Both marketers say March isn't a heavy media schedule for them.
Toyota Division pulled out of all TV news programming for 72 hours after the war started, says a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. And the division will continue to avoid advertising on news channels, says Jim Lentz, Toyota Division vice president of marketing. Toyota also will carefully scan its creative work for images or wording that might be construed as pro or anti-war.
Lentz's biggest concern is if war coverage continues into early April, when the new Sienna minivan launch begins.
"If war pre-empts that launch, it will cost us an ungodly fortune to get back into primetime at a later date," he says. "We could put Sienna into booked 4Runner and Camry spots later on, but it's really hard to duplicate the launch schedule, especially if everyone is trying to get back into primetime."
Sister division Lexus started a pre-launch for its new RX 330 SUV this week. An estimated $65 million campaign is scheduled to break March 28. Lexus has a full media schedule, including news programs, and will "try to maintain as much of that as they feel appropriate," says the Toyota Motor Sales spokesman.
Mike Wells, vice president of marketing for Lexus, described the multimedia launch as the largest in Lexus' history, topping a blitz for the ES 300 sedan two years ago. Though Wells declined to discuss specifics of the brand's media contingency plans, he said, "We'll stay very acutely aware of consumer sensitivity and, if we think anything would be offensive or sensitive, we'll be more selective where we conduct our ad broadcasts." He doesn't expect the launch to be delayed.
Volkswagen of America Inc. has suspended all advertising but isn't concerned about its next vehicle launch yet because the Touareg won't debut until July.
"We'll wait a couple of weeks to see how this plays out" before advertising again, says spokesman Tony Fouladpour.
Ford Motor Co. and BMW of North America Inc. say they won't advertise during war coverage. Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Flake went on to say that no brands in the company plan changes to their current advertising content, because none would be deemed inappropriate.
Business as usual for some
The Chrysler group has not changed its media schedule.
"We're still on network programs, but if we're pre-empted, then we'll have to move around if we go into 24-hour or 20-hour war coverage," says Chrysler spokesman James Kenyon.
The group hadn't bought commercial time during many TV news programs nor in many newsweeklies anyway. Chrysler won't change existing ads, Kenyon says.
The Chrysler brand is in the midst of launching the Pacifica here and the Crossfire in Germany. "At this point, we don't see any reason those launches will be affected," Kenyon says.
A Porsche Cars North America Inc. spokesman says his company isn't worried about its Cayenne launch either.
Porsche's pre-war media plan remains. The company mostly runs its TV commercials on cable channels and its print ads in financial and car enthusiast magazines.
"Everyone's attention is focused elsewhere, as it should be, but by and large American life goes on," says spokesman Jay Allison. "If for a minute we thought we were being gross or crass or insensitive, we'd pull something. At this point, we don't believe there's a reason to do that."
No automakers were planning to create patriotic ads to support the troops.
Staff Reporters Mark Rechtin and Amy Wilson and Marketing Editor Kathy Jackson contributed to this report