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Ad Agency Calls Business Week 'Liar' Story Untruthful

June 29, 1989|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Did Business Week "lie" about the ad world's most famous liar?

The New York ad agency that created the smooth-tongued Joe Isuzu sure thinks so. And Della Femina, MacNamee WCRS has placed a scathing full-page ad in today's Wall Street Journal that could make even Joe Isuzu blush.

The ad will run under the headline, "Business Week Admires Joe Isuzu So Much That in Their July 12th Issue, They 'Lied' About Isuzu's Sales."

Not surprisingly, Business Week says that it is Della Femina that is twisting the truth.

Ad to Cost $82,000

But Jerry Della Femina, the outspoken chairman of the agency, is livid over a recent article in Business Week that said pitchman Joe Isuzu "hasn't been very good at selling cars." That's why Della Femina's agency is spending $82,000 for an ad that he says will vindicate Isuzu's use of the lying pitchman.

"Business Week is guilty of very shoddy reporting," said Della Femina in a telephone interview. "The fact is, Joe Isuzu is very successful at selling cars. If sales were down, heck, we'd get rid of him."

The ad firm created Joe Isuzu nearly 3 1/2 years ago as TV's fibbing car salesman whose spoken lies are corrected by captions appearing below him on the screen. Since then, actor David Leisure has gone on to co-star in NBC-TV's "Empty Nest."

The Business Week article says that Isuzu passenger car sales fell 38% in 1988 compared to the year before. But it makes no reference to Isuzu's improved truck sales in 1988--which account for nearly 80% of all Isuzu sales. "If Business Week had wanted to be fair," the ad says, "they would have reported the Isuzu truck sales were up 4% in 1988." During that same period, double-digit drops were reported for truck sales of rivals Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi.

The ad, which Della Femina said he wrote himself, concludes: "Does knocking Joe Isuzu unfairly sell magazines? You're going to have to ask Business Week about that one."

'Unfairly Accused'

Malarkey, Business Week says to that. "The most you could argue is that we made an honest mistake," said Stephen Shepard, editor-in-chief of Business Week, which also this week printed a detailed letter to the editor from the agency. "This ad seems grossly out of proportion to whatever offense there is," Shepard said. "They're grandstanding."

Because Business Week is "unfairly accused of lying" in the ad, Shepard said his magazine refused a request by the agency to run the ad in this week's issue. Although the ad appears in today's Journal, the newspaper did require several changes to it. Among other things, quotation marks had to be placed around the word "lied" in the headline.

The Journal would not comment on its decision. "We don't discuss our advertisers or their ads," said Roger May, deputy director of corporate relations for Dow Jones. "It's up to them if they want to talk about it."

Fortune magazine is also considering the ad for its next issue as are the advertising trade publications, Adweek and Advertising Age, said Della Femina. "There's nothing worse than winning," said Della Femina, "but being told by people that you're losing."

But one advertising consultant said that Joe Isuzu may very well be a loser. "Joe Isuzu has created a larger marketing problem for Isuzu then he solved," said Jim Hillson, senior analyst at the Los Angeles advertising research firm Phase One. "Sure, he brought Isuzu lots of name recognition, he's also given Isuzu the image of a less than trustworthy company."

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