ABC's Modern Family: Why No Toyota Terror?

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh

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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  • Reclusive_in_nature Reclusive_in_nature on Mar 09, 2010

    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!)

  • Jack Denver Jack Denver on Mar 09, 2010

    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.