Good news or bad news? When do you stop and start your advertising to contradict "news" messages?
For Toyota Motor Sales, the answer -- right now, anyway -- is to stop advertising, first at Southeastern TV stations and now at some Northeastern TV stations.
A couple of months ago the Toyota dealers association in the Southeast thought that it wasn't getting a fair break from ABC News, which continues to cast a hard eye on the car company and the sudden-acceleration problems of some of its cars. So the group withheld ad dollars from those local ABC stations.
Now, the Greater New York Toyota Dealer Association is getting into the act, pulling back some $5 million dollars from TV stations in its markets, including WABC-TV in New York.
The underlying message is that car dealer associations obviously don't believe in the separation of church and state -- advertising sales and journalism. Another message: They don't want to reward any part of a media company's activities.
Dennis Lauzon, who runs the Greater New York Toyota Dealer Association, told the New York Daily News: "They're bashing our product during the news, it made no sense to advertise."
Advertising experts might disagree and argue that this is the exact opposite of what Toyota should to -- that in the face of unfavorable news reports, perhaps it should advertise even more.
Now let's turn to the company that's really the whipping post of the press these days: British Petroleum. Chief executive Tony Hayward has been featured in a new run of commercials plainly expressing sorrow at the major environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. (Some critics wonder why the company is spending money on advertising and not in key clean-up areas.)
This is not to say that Toyota hasn't offered up some contrition in commercials, though a full-on apology has not been forthcoming.
Toyota believes it is taking, or has taken, care of its problems; BP, obviously, still has much work to do. BP doesn't spend nearly as much on U.S. advertising as Toyota does. So there's less at stake for TV stations concerning the oil company's advertising dollars.
With so many journalism outlets out there, perhaps marketers feel free to move around marketing dollars and be more open in their displeasure.
Toyota has gained a lot from using local TV stations as a marketing platform over the last several decades. But selling cars these days isn't necessarily about loyalty to your marketing partners -- not in these trying times.
One figures that at some point Toyota will return to spending money on local stations. And, true to form, TV stations will take their money. The question is, how far can the elastic be stretched between TV news messaging and paid-advertising messaging?