TV commercials by car companies making fuel economy claims tripled after gasoline prices spiked in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a study concludes.
Automakers insist the timing was coincidental. They say they began to emphasize fuel efficiency themes in their advertising before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in late August. Disruptions in the region's oil operations helped push gasoline prices to more than $3 a gallon across the country.
TNS Media Intelligence, a New York company that tracks national advertising, says just five of 120 new TV commercials from automakers that aired from Aug. 22-28 stressed fuel economy. Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14, TNS says, 18 of 136 new automotive commercials featured fuel economy messages.
The study included all national broadcast networks, 45 cable channels and 600 TV stations, says Jon Swallen, TNS' senior vice president of research.
Even if the hurricane had not affected fuel prices, many car companies say they still would have made fuel economy a more prominent element of their marketing and advertising.
A corporate print and broadcast ad campaign by General Motors that began in May cites 20 GM models that get more than 30 mpg in highway driving. GM marketing director Bob Kraut says fuel efficiency has become one of the five factors consumers mention most often to explain their vehicle purchase decisions.
"I think this issue is going to be with us for the next couple of quarters," Kraut says. "We'll be there with messaging."