TORRANCE, Calif. — The Rev. Jesse Jackson threatened a boycott against auto maker Toyota on Wednesday, accusing the company of using racist advertising while excluding blacks among its dealers, board of directors, and advertising teams.
Jackson was outside of Toyota’s headquarters in Torrance to protest what he called a racist ad campaign for the company’s RAV4 sport utility vehicle.
The ad was placed on free postcards and distributed in nightclubs and coffeehouses. The card, which Toyota discontinued May 14, shows a close-up of a dark-skinned man’s mouth with an image of a gold RAV4 on one tooth.
“The only thing missing is the watermelon,” Jackson said after meeting with Toyota officials.
Toyota has defended the ad campaign and said it was aimed at a “young and very trendy audience” with an emerging trend called tooth art.
Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager for the Toyota Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA, apologized Wednesday for the postcards.
He said that, unlike print and television ads, he didn’t see the postcards before they were released. Had he seen the postcards, he wouldn’t have approved them.
Toyota also said it ended the postcard campaign out of concerns that it might promote a negative image to some. The company insisted it made the move before it had heard from Rainbow/PUSH.
Jackson said there were too few black and Hispanic dealers on Toyota lots compared to those of rivals Ford and General Motors. He called for at least part of Toyota’s $470 million advertising budget to go to minority-owned advertising firms.
Jackson said he hopes Toyota will address those issues by June 20 or he would call for a boycott of the company. He said Rainbow/PUSH will sponsor information pickets of the auto manufacturer in 10 major U.S. cities in the coming weeks.
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