Unless you have been asleep for the past month or two, you probably have seen the bright red Toyota commercial touting their commitment to safety:
“At Toyota, we care about your safety. That’s why we’re investing a million dollars every hour to improve our technology and your safety. It’s an investment that has helped Toyota win multiple top safety pick awards for 2010 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. No other brand has won more. These top safety picks and all our new safety innovations are available at Toyota.com/safety . “
The average TV watcher will likely take away the message that Toyota cares about safety, has won a lot of safety awards, and is spending a million dollars an hour to improve safety.
Mouse Print* asked the company how they arrived at the million dollars an hour figure.
“The $1 million figure represents Toyota’s total global spending on R&D to enhance the safety and technology of its vehicles. [Toyota] projects $760 billion yen [to be spent in FY2011] on R&D. Breaking down the calculations, 90 yen to the dollar equals $8.44 billion, which works out to $2,318,310 per day or $965,962 an hour, rounded to $1 million an hour. In any event, any fluctuations in the yen would impact the exact final figure.”
The key issue is not so much that they rounded up the figure to a million dollars an hour (exaggerating the amount spent by almost $30 million a year) but rather that the number is TOTAL spending on research and development, not just on safety issues. The company could not provide a number for the actual amount just spent on safety, but it certainly is less than the total spent on R&D, and therefore is not $1 million dollars an hour.
When this discrepancy and interpretation of the commercial was pointed out to Toyota, they responded:
“As the commercials mention, the $1 million figure represents Toyota’s R&D spending on new technology and safety, much of it allocated to quality and safety features.”
If you parse the key sentence in the commercial, it does indeed say that they are spending $1 million an hour to “improve our technology AND your safety.” But by using the term “safety” seven times in 30 seconds, and displaying the words “safety” or “safe” on the screen for much of the commercial, listeners are likely to get the net impression that Toyota is spending a million dollars an hour to “improve our technology FOR your safety.” We don’t think the average consumer would take away from the commercial that the company is spending some number less than a million dollars an hour on safety.
In Massachusetts, we have an advertising regulation that provides:
“An advertisement as a whole may be unfair or deceptive although each representation separately construed is literally true.”