Toyota Defends Saatchi

Toyota said last week it will not yank its $400 million account from Saatchi & Saatchi as a result of marketing materials deemed by some to be racially insensitive.

Rev. Jesse Jackson last week blasted Toyota and Saatchi for a promotional postcard showing a smiling black man sporting a bright gold SUV-shaped tooth jewel. Jackson demanded an apology, called for Saatchi to be fired, urged a consumer boycott and called on Toyota to create more employment opportunities for African Americans.

Toyota has withdrawn the card, and said it will comply with all but one of Jackson’s demands.

“They asked us to fire Saachi, but we don’t think that’s the right solution,” said Mike Michels, national media manager for Toyota. “If there is a problem with one of our cars, we don’t cut the head off of some guy on the assembly line.”

Michels said Toyota approved the card before 420,000 of them were sent out. The procedures for such approval are being examined, he said.

Jackson and representatives from his organization, Operation Push, met with Toyota executives and Saatchi L.A. president Scott Gilbert at the car maker’s headquarters in Torrance, Calif., last week.

“Toyota said they will not fire us, and we are certainly pleased to hear that,” said Gilbert. “I think we can all dial up our sensitivity meters and learn from this.”

Three years ago, Toyota and Saatchi were hit with similar charges when a Corolla ad with the headline “Unlike your last boyfriend, it goes to work every morning” ran in Jet, a magazine for African Americans.