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WAR BEGINS, AN INDUSTRY REACTS: Some automakers kill TV ad campaigns
By Julie Cantwell and Jean Halliday
Automotive News / March 24, 2003

A couple of vehicle marketing launches may be postponed as most automakers make plans to reduce advertising during the war with Iraq.

Some automakers have pulled out of broadcast and cable TV, especially during news programming. Executives from those companies say they will monitor the climate and return when appropriate.

But others, including General Motors and the Chrysler group, say they aren't changing a thing because of the war. Many automakers have kept such high-profile media commitments as the NCAA men's basketball tournament on CBS and the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 23, on ABC. even debuted a commercial Thursday, March 20, during the tournament.

There were no immediate plans by any automaker to use patriotic ads supporting the troops.

Garry Neal, CEO of McCann-Erickson Detroit, which handles GM corporate and Buick advertising, says he does not think the mood of the public is as somber as it was after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"With 9/11, there was no advanced warning, and we were attacked. This conflict is far away, and we are the aggressor," Neal says. "We're counseling our clients just to monitor the situation and be prepared to get back to business quickly."

GM, the nation's largest advertiser, has planned to continue advertising during regularly scheduled programming on all TV networks, a spokeswoman says, and to stay in newsweeklies such as Time and Newsweek.

Newsweeklies are feeling the pullback by other automakers, but most monthly magazines aren't hurting yet. Only GM has scaled back from Conde Nast publications, which include Vogue, Architectural Digest and Wired, says a source inside the publishing company who asked not to be identified. But that has more to do with the automaker's budget cut than the war, the source says.

Honda, Toyota are worried

Honda and Toyota are concerned that the war could hinder marketing efforts for new models.

Eric Conn, assistant vice president of advertising for American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says his planned ad launch in about a month for Acura's TSX sports sedan may be delayed, depending on the war's progress.

The day after the war started, Honda and Mercedes-Benz USA LLC pulled ads from all media that it could for seven days. Both marketers say March does not have a heavy media schedule for them.

Toyota Division pulled out of all TV news programming for 72 hours after the war started, says a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. The division will continue to avoid advertising on news channels, says Jim Lentz, Toyota Division vice president of marketing. Toyota also will scan its creative work for images or wording that might be construed as pro-war or antiwar.

Lentz's biggest concern is if war coverage continues into early April, when the new Sienna minivan launch begins.

"If war pre-empts that launch, it will cost us an ungodly fortune to get back into prime time at a later date," he says. "We could put Sienna into booked 4Runner and Camry spots later on, but it's really hard to duplicate the launch schedule, especially if everyone is trying to get back into prime time."

Last week, Toyota's sister division, Lexus, started a pre-launch for its RX 330 SUV. An estimated $65 million campaign is scheduled to break Friday, March 28. Lexus has a full media schedule, including news programs, and will try to maintain as much as is appropriate, says the Toyota Motor Sales spokesman.

Mike Wells, vice president of marketing for Lexus, describes the multimedia launch as the largest in Lexus history, topping a blitz for the ES 300 sedan two years ago. Wells, while not discussing specifics of the brand's media contingency plans, says he doesn't expect the launch to be delayed.

Volkswagen of America Inc. has suspended all advertising but isn't concerned about its next vehicle launch yet because the Touareg won't debut until July.

"We'll wait a couple of weeks to see how this plays out" before advertising again, spokesman Tony Fouladpour says.

Nissan has pulled all its corporate advertising and advised its dealers to do the same for the foreseeable future, spokesman Scott Vazin says.

Ford Motor Co. and BMW of North America Inc. say they won't advertise during war coverage. Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Flake says that no brands in the company plan changes to their current advertising content because none would be deemed inappropriate.

Business as usual

"We're still on network programs, but if we're pre-empted, then we'll have to move around if we go into 24-hour or 20-hour war coverage," says Chrysler spokesman James Kenyon.

Porsche's pre-war media plan remains the same. The company mostly runs its TV commercials on cable channels and its print ads in financial and car enthusiast magazines.

Staff Reporters Mark Rechtin and Amy Wilson and Marketing Editor Kathy Jackson contributed to this report. Jean Halliday is a staff reporter with Advertising Age.
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