By on March 9, 2010

An article in this week’s Advertising Age and Automotive News (they’re sister publications) investigates why the family in the new hit sitcom ‘Modern Family’ “still drives Toyota product.” The author found it “jarring” that the family “chatted happily while traveling in, of all things, a Toyota.” The answer: Toyota paid for product placement, the contract runs through the end of the season, and many of the episodes have already been shot.

The implication: if the show were realistic, the family should be scared to death to be in a Toyota, and only placement dollars are keeping the show from replacing the Toyotas in question with truly safe cars. Overlooked: that even now the problem hasn’t been replicated or definitively identified, and at any rate affects a very small percentage of cars. Anyone with a sense of probability would be no more concerned about driving a Toyota than any other car.

The article states that, in the past, when a company was hit by a crisis, such as a plane crash, all of that company’s ads were usually pulled as soon as possible. The author doesn’t seem to realize that this was done for the sake of the advertiser, in case it wanted to alter the message sent or wait until the crisis was over to resume advertising. It wasn’t done to distance the network from the advertiser, as the author assumes when asking why the network has risked “negative rub-off” by linking its hit show “to the brouhaha.”

It makes more sense to ask, as the article also does, why Toyota hasn’t requested that its cars be removed from the show. The answer in this case is obvious: the last thing Toyota would want to do is imply that its cars are too unsafe to drive by pulling them from the show.

Ultimately there’s no conflict, and so no real point to the article. The network wants the Toyotas in the show because they get product placement money and they don’t want to reshoot any scenes. Toyota wants to keep its cars in the show because it’s effective advertising and to do otherwise would increase generally unfounded suspicions about their safety. And there’s no valid reason the cars shouldn’t still be in the show, except that the scattered explicit product references can be mildly irritating.

What I personally found “jarring:” in the most recent episode the family let its oldest daughter, who just got her license on her third attempt and who is clearly not a safe driver, go off by herself in their brand-new Sienna minivan. Having drivers like this girl on the road without any supervision–now that’s unsafe.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto pricing and reliability data

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33 Comments on “ABC’s Modern Family: Why No Toyota Terror?...”

  • avatar

    I abhor product placement as much as any modern American does, but I have to admit, I did laugh out loud at the youtube clip.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      And I have to say the most awful, blatant auto product placement in a broadcast TV show award belongs to _Fringe_..

      And movie? IMO X-Men 3, with the Merc on the Golden Gate Bridge..

  • avatar

    I think ABC already did this under the disguise of a “news” investigation.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Quote: This video contains content from ABC, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.
    No problem , Toyotas are still selling like hot cakes here.

  • avatar

    Those scenes with the daughter behind the wheel were truly frightening… that little bint had NO business driving, none. Even if it is just Hollywood.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re just trying to be realistic. The parents, in this show, are dingbats…much like many So Cal people I seem to meet.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that was the point the shows writers were trying to make. They could have portrayed a safe perfect teen driver if they wanted. Instead, they made the point that some teen drivers aren’t ready for the road despite the fact they can pass a drivers test.

    • 0 avatar

      If they were making that point, then why give her the keys to the van and wish her on her merry distracted way?

      I’m truly dreading when my kids become new drivers. Still over five years away, but time passes too quickly.

      The shows’ writers do seem to have a fixation on bad drivers. Who, for what it’s worth, have all been women so far (Gloria, the pediatrician, and now the daughter).

  • avatar

    This Toyota bashing is really getting ridiculous! Toyota still builds, by and large, well built, safe, economical vehicles, and there is still a market for them. Their troubles of late are a little alarming, but not enough that I’d be scared to drive or purchase one of their products. Anyone that’s an experienced driver and can keep a cool head should be able to handle on of these cars, should they go WOT on their own. Truthfully, any car with an inexperienced driver should be feared, not just Toyotas.

  • avatar

    I have a couple of Toyotas and I’m not afraid of them. One of them has a manual and the clutch pedal will end any UA issue quickly. The automatic I can handle as well. The reality is that everything else happening on the roads is far worse. The UA issue is just another event that might happen and something that can be dealt with. If you consider all of the vehicle miles being driven by Toyotas every day vs. the number of UA issues, the odds are against it happening. Compare that to the rate of non-UA accidents. I haven’t seen the actual numbers, but I suspect there were far more than one Toyota involved in non-UA accidents in the US in last day.

    By the way, what about Pontiac UA issues:

  • avatar

    “negative rub-off” by linking its hit show “to the brouhaha.”

    How could the Entertainment Div. be worried about that if the News Div. can’t be worried about sloppy editing of their Toyota Gilbert piece?

    BTW, I think ABC could charge Toyota more for the product placement fees for the upcoming season … the Modern Family not driving Toyota’s next year and a plot-line explaining dear daughter had an UA-accident and lost her license and insurance would seem to have good extortion potential!

  • avatar

    The guy who wrote the article needs to look at the roads and see how many people still drive Toyotas.

  • avatar

    In tangentially related news, a coworker reports today that a member of his modern family (his father, specifically) attempted to trade in his 2009 Corolla on an Edge or an Escape, but the Ford dealer wouldn’t take it on trade due to the recall fiasco. I’m not sure what floors me more, the highly questionable decision by the Ford dealer not to accept a perfectly good car that will be fixed by its manufacturer, or the possibility that Toyota’s salability and/or residuals may actually be getting hammered due to this issue.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had some people tell me this is happening, and others saying it’s not.

      Dealers do things that don’t make sense all the time. This is just one example.

      I would avoid selling or trading a Toyota right now. The value will be lower in the short term, but probably not the long term.

      Some of the class actions are suing for loss of resale value. Imagine if manufacturers were sued every time some problem with their cars caused their resale value to take a hit–lawyers would have a new, never-ending gold mine.

    • 0 avatar

      I received a letter offering me “bonus cash” of $1,000 if I would come trade in my Toyota at their dealer.

      We drive a Sienna (they are not involved in the fuss) and the dealer sells Pontiacs.

  • avatar

    The clip is funny…love this show. And both the mom and the “stepmom” married to the Ed O’Neill character are hot.

  • avatar

    I never heard of this show, but this clip demonstrates that it’s writers have no concept of reality, but in depth knowledge of political correctness and stereotypes. Gay guy in a hybrid who is hit by a pick up truck driving hetero? Yeah – happens everyday if you are a television writer without a clue how to write.

  • avatar

    Do you guys really not have some cars to talk about? This is getting ridiculous.

    How many people died in car accidents yesterday? How many died in UA incidents? It is completely absurd to beat this horse five times a day and call it journalism.

    I thought you guys were trying to show the auto journalism industry how it’s done. Instead you’re desperately clinging to a strange artifact of American fear for weeks on end, like it’s somehow important.

    I want TTAC back. Yes, I have been ignoring most of these articles, but that’s like ignoring half the website lately.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like you didn’t bother to read the piece, since it’s anti-fear. Well, with regard to Toyota UA at least.

      I’m very much afraid of young, inexperienced drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, you’re right. I didn’t see the “read more” and clicked straight to “comments,” which jumped me past your piece.

      So: fair enough. A kid in a Sienna is a hazard more than the Sienna itself.

      I’m still done with UA/Toyota articles. I will resume my policy of not clicking on them.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m very much afraid of young, inexperienced drivers.

      +1. My nephew will be driving in a year or so. I’m skeptical of my sister’s teaching ability – but where do you turn for good driving instruction for young people?

      As the crazy ‘car guy’ uncle, I suppose I could offer to teach. Although my East-German-Border-Guard personality and teaching techniques may not appreciated by my nephew.

  • avatar

    No offence, but why does this even qualify as news?
    “Toyota make duff cars – Toyota forced to recall duff cars – Toyota doesn’t stop advertising.”
    Like no sh*t Sherlock.
    Why is this Brian Steinberg even bothered about such things? Hundreds of companies have produced faulty products and continued advertising – what’s new? And why is he so worried? This guy is a complete numpty.

  • avatar

    Maybe there’s been a government “investment” in Advertising Age and Automotive News.

  • avatar

    Call it a hunch, but somehow I think Toyota was responsible for the survivors crashing on the island in “Lost”. (Sorry. I’m just excited that it’s coming on tonight!)

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    The fact that the article author even raises this is idiotic but this shows you how badly Toyota has farked up the PR campaign among the unwashed masses. In MSM terms, the name “Toyota” is now synonymous with “death trap” and you can no longer present a Toyota in a program as just a normal car (unless you are being bribed to). From now on if a Toyota appears in a sit-com it can only be the butt of a joke. The name of the company is no longer “Toyota” but “Toyota afflicted with sudden acceleration” – how many strokes is that and is it a lucky #? Oh my.

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