Lincoln is used in a Toyota commercial series to promote the reception of a President’s Award.
But what does this mean about how we remember Lincoln?
The Toyota of Dallas branch received the President’s Award for customer service in 2008. According to an article written on the Toyota Industrial Equipment website, the Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc. (or TMHU) “selects its top dealers, representing approximately the top 20 percent of the dealer body, each year from a North American network of dealers, recognizing them for demonstrating excellence in parts, service and equipment sales, customer satisfaction and overall dealership operations.” In light of this award, the Toyota of Dallas marketing team decided to launch a series of commercials that featured a man dressed up like Abe Lincoln working alongside the employees of Toyota. and in each commercial, an employee addresses his presence with, “He comes with the award.”
So why did Toyota of Dallas choose to use Abraham Lincoln in their advertising campaign? What role does he serve to them?
The answer can be found when looking into the ways Abraham Lincoln has been remembered and portrayed throughout history.
Barry Schwartz wrote an article titled Memory as a Cultural System: Abraham Lincoln in World War I in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, which highlighted the interestingly popular usage of Abraham Lincoln during the era of World War I. He was used as a motivational device for the soldiers because of the way society had viewed him at the time, but what is most interesting is the “Progressive” idol that Abe Lincoln had become. Schwartz wrote, “When Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for Lincoln’s birthplace shrine in Hodgenville, Kentucky, he commented on the ‘social and industrial problems of the day’ and how Lincoln’s own ‘reform’ would apply to them. Many other leaders worked away at this theme. Lincoln would oppose child labor and the exploitation of adult labor. He would recognize that ‘socialism is the new slavery,’ but would say the same about ‘corporations that break the laws with insolence and impunity.’ Lincoln was a natural ‘labor leader’ who recognized not only the legitimacy of property but also the rights of the working man” (Schwartz). Lincoln was a popular icon for the blue-collar worker, including those now in the auto industry. Labor laws and recognition went far for those in the World War I era and it is being reflected in the usage of his image in a commercial of the everyday “working man.”
Moreover, I believe Toyota of Dallas is attempting to reincarnate a receding memory of Abraham Lincoln, one that only appears in the whispers of society’s media: the image of “Honest Abe.” In History, Commemoration, and Belief: Abraham Lincoln in American Memory, an article published in the American Sociological Review by Barry Schwartz and Howard Schuman, research was conducted in a “Maryland Survey” and a “Knowledge Survey” to determine how the people of Maryland viewed Abraham Lincoln in terms of why he was great and what the public was aware of regarding his accomplishments, respectively. After initiating the survey, Schwartz and Schuman wrote, “Another aspect of Lincoln’s reputation is based on integrity, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, and courage (which may be no less relevant to urban than to frontier life). Five types of moral attribution appeared among our responses: (1) honesty, (2) compassion, (3) bravery, (4) religiosity, and (5) other moral qualities, including fairness, virtuousness, and strong convictions. These five attributions are infrequent when taken individually, but at least one of the five is mentioned by 19.2 percent of the Maryland respondents and 10.2 percent of the Knowledge respondents, making them as a group second only to ‘Emancipation’ as a source of Lincoln’s historical identity” (190). These moral qualities were once embedded in a small percentage of society’s image of Abe Lincoln, and I believe that Toyota of Dallas is trying to revive this connection of strong moral character and Abraham Lincoln to promote the award they received for customer service and promote their business even further.
While the specific production and sales figures are not easily accessed by the public, on the Toyota Global Site, there are records of production and sales by region. Specifically in the North American region, both production and sales dropped over the course of a couple years from 2007 to 2009. Production went from 1.6 million units in 2007 to 1.4 million in 2008 and 1.2 million in 2009. Sales followed suit, decreasing from 2007’s mark of 2.8 million units to 2008’s 2.4 million units, and further on to 2009’s of about 2 million. While these numbers seem rather arbitrary in representing a more specific area of the region, it is clear that overall the branch’s attempt did not produce significant enough results for the sake of its company through the use of the image of Abe Lincoln.
The question that remains is if companies in the future will continue on attempting to revive older views of the president to invoke consumer emotions and increase sales, or if this “working man” “Honest Abe” will be once again forgotten.
Schwartz, Barry. “Memory as a Cultural System. Abraham Lincoln in World War I.” The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 17.6 (1997): 22-58. ProQuest. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
Schuman, Howard, and Barry Schwartz. “History, Commemoration, and Belief: Abraham Lincoln in American Memory, 1945-2001.” American Sociological Review 70.2 (2005): 183-203. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.