Publishers Pitch Power of Medium to Automakers

With Toyota trying to recover from its safety recalls and rival automakers angling for its market share, local newspapers and broadcasters have largely reaped the advertising benefits. But publishers of consumer magazines, who have seen their auto ad spending drop precipitously in recent years, are trying to use the recall fallout to lure automakers back to the kind of branding messages that traditionally have benefited their medium.

“Toyota is an incredible company, and they’re going to react to this and be back in the market in a pretty big way,” said one magazine executive, who declined to speak for attribution. “The question is, will their competitors take advantage of branding opportunities while Toyota is on the sidelines?”

For now, it’s unclear where auto spending in print is headed. Toyota yanked pages in some April monthlies but kept spending in others. Time Inc.’s Entertainment Weekly, for one, hasn’t seen a loss of ads for Toyota’s Prius, 4Runner and Sienna models.

Publishers are scrambling to replace the pulled schedules, helped by what one agency print buyer called “fire sale” rates. Others are crafting more elaborate ideas, anticipating that budgets will loosen as the year goes on. One such magazine executive offering big programs to Toyota competitors is telling them “they should jump on this as an opportunity.”

Some predict Toyota will jack up spending in the second half to restore confidence in its brands and that consumer magazines—particularly car enthusiast titles—will benefit.

“They’re going to have to go to market and rebuild their image to establish consumer trust,” said Ray Chelstowski, EW publisher. “I think weeklies will benefit because it’s going to require a certain kind of frequency.”

Buyers expect publishers to reap some benefit, just not necessarily in pages. “Magazines do so much event and lifestyle marketing, and I would expect Toyota would do more of that,” explained one auto buyer. “They’re going to have to get before the public, so I would expect them to do fewer pages and more events.”

Another view holds that magazines’ power as a branding medium may actually work against them in a case like this and cause Toyota to stay out of print for a while. “When these things happen, there’s a squeamishness about putting messaging in print because the message sticks around a long time,” said another publisher, on background only.

Rival automakers, meanwhile, are expected to continue to step up marketing activities to emphasize the safety and reliability of their own vehicles, beyond the discounts Ford and General Motors have been offering for Toyota trade-ins. “I think you would hope GM and Ford are in a position to capitalize on it,” the publisher continued. “Hyundai and Kia are looking at this as enormous market share opportunities.”

Ildi Pap Conrad, U.S. director, print investment, OMD, added that while she thinks carmakers were already planning Q2 and Q3 2010 increases, she wouldn’t be surprised to see short-term activity in weeklies and newspapers.

Print could use the pages. For the first 11 months of 2009, total auto ad spending fell 25.6 percent to $5.6 billion but 37 percent in national magazines to $632 million, per Nielsen.
Paging has crept back in Q4 ’09 and Q1 ’10 as Detroit—after facing questions about its very survival—revved up ad campaigns. Still, others including BMW, Land Rover and Honda are seen spending little this year.

When they do spend, however, publishers will be ready. Bonnier’s Popular Science is hawking its May issue’s Future of the Car, which now has a particularly timely ring. Said publisher Gregg Hano: “We feel like we’re well primed to effectively place auto industry messages.”