Toyota got burned by the low ratings of the reality TV series "The Contender," advertising and TV executives say.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. had a $16 million deal to advertise and promote its vehicles on the boxing-themed show.
"The Contender" ended its season on NBC last month. Toyota spent a reported $6 million to be the show's exclusive automotive sponsor. It spent another $10 million on advertising and related promotions.
The show integrated Toyota vehicles into its content.
Toyota's price tag was the highest fee ever paid by a marketer for such a deal, advertising industry officials say.
Mark Simmons, Toyota Division's national manager of advertising strategy and media, concedes that Toyota "didn't get the total audience we wanted."
Yet, he says, "The Contender" attracted a high concentration of young male viewers - an important demographic for Toyota.
"Strategically, it's been the right place for us," Simmons says.
According to Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News, Toyota negotiated its tie-in directly with Mark Burnett Productions, which produced the show.
Because it did not make the deal with NBC, Toyota could not get ratings guarantees for the show or seek other recourse from the network. Toyota took a risk that the show would live up to its hype.
A representative of Mark Burnett Productions did not return calls. Asked whether Toyota had overpaid for the TV agreement, Simmons says: "The terms of the deal were positive for us since we had premier sponsorship and ringside signage. ... It was a good brand association for us."
But he says: "Would I have loved it to have been an 'American Idol'? Absolutely."