Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

No, Advertising Can’t Save a Brand Under Siege

I believe that Toyota’s TV commercial offering reassurance is an example of “too little, too soon.”  This post is an addendum to the previous blog post and discussion on adding value to a brand through information-rich advertising.  Due to expanding recalls and government-voiced allegations, Toyota is a brand under siege.  The TV spot that has been running heavily this month begins with something most of us already know: Toyota has had a reputation for reliable vehicles for 50 years.  So what?

As Gerson Lehrman Group put it:  “Before Toyota can raise its image from the ashes, the world’s largest automaker must make sure the fire is out.”

In my mind, the public is not ready for the feel-good stuff in a commercial.  This is ineffective advertising; it offers no new valuable information, and right now the marketplace craves insight and answers.

While Toyota is showing happy families in their TV spot, we’ve got Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., saying “Not totally” when asked in a congressional hearing this week if he could say with certainty that the fixes now being undertaken will completely eliminate unintended acceleration problems.  Is there a “smoking circuit” yet to be found? And now allegations that Toyota deliberately withheld key vehicle design and testing evidence in lawsuits filed by Toyota drivers injured in crashes.

So, bottom line, this ad content may remind Toyota owners of their past good experiences, or it may be greeted with indifference, but it may also inspire lots of social media conversations like this double Tweet from today: “I’m sorry, but this set of Toyota commercials where they are trying to convince us they are ‘so concerned’ about this recall – -I’m not buying it. They pretty much were forced to do it by congress, and now they want us to believe they are doing this cause they care.”

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February 27, 2010 - Posted by | Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations, Issues That Worked | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. I completely agree, Dave. These ads actually get my goat in a big way.

    The first ad — the pseudo apology — featured American workers in Toyota plants while the narrator said “lately, we haven’t done as well as we should.” My blood pressure went through the roof every time I saw it. I’ve got enough blue-collar blood in me to see red when a Japanese company, which has made HUGE errors at the executive management level, throws the workers in front of the camera during the mea-culpa narrative. These workers did exactly what they were paid to do: flawlessly build cars with huge flaws in the design. The workers are not the ones who need to clean up their act.

    The new ads aren’t much better. Where are the executives? Where is the person in charge taking responsibility? An ad featuring a dealership mechanic who’s very appealing and earnest is somewhat effective. Until he says, “I believe in these cars” (or some such thing). He’s not believable because his income depends entirely on perpetuating any myth necessary. And the next thing that pops into my head is, “Really? Because I’m pretty sure I saw a news clip in which an executive couldn’t actually confirm that they’ve solved the problems.”

    So, 100% agree, Dave. Toyota has fast-forwarded to image-repair mode before they even know the scope or before they’ve taken the necessary responsibility. Their first step should be to fully account for all the problems. Then they can talk about how they’re going to fix them. And, at some point, we’re going to need to see one of the executives making the apology–not the assembly-line team.

    Comment by Tina Creguer | March 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. Oh, Dave…come on, you cynic you! This is a BEAUTIFUL ad! Just ask the guys who thought it up! The gentle susurrous of the narrator’s voice, the serene background melody tinkling over the images like a spring shower…the whole thing says, “Fall asleep now, little children…everything’s fine, and tomorrow we’ll give you sugar cubes and honey for breakfast.” The sad part is (given the American public’s general lack of media savvy) it’ll probably work. Most folks will swill this Kool-Aid with a happy smile.

    While I understand your (and Tina’s) point about it being too soon, I had a somewhat different reaction. Toyota knew there was a problem weeks before they finally responded to it. Yes, the response is puerile and half-assed. Far more disturbing to me is the lag in response, and the ass-covering reasons for it.

    A politician cheats on his spouse. Instead of conceding the fact like a man, he issues denial after denial after denial…making the final, inevitable admission even more pathetic, while adding “LIAR” and “IMBECILE” to his newly-tarnished public persona.

    I’m reminded of Johnson and Johnson’s response to the Tylenol crisis of the early ’80s. In a matter of days, the entire lot of pills was pulled from shelves, the company released pointed, informative announcements, refunds were issued, and in less than a year, Tylenol was back on the best-seller list. Why? Because they took responsibility.

    This is such a simple, foundational lesson…what makes it so difficult to internalize? Is it cowardice? Avarice? The hubris of reputation? Maybe a pleasant mix of them all. But there are marketing guys, working for Toyota, making way more than I make, who decided to stall, inveigle, prevaricate and dodge the issue. That’s what pisses me off, here.

    Want to avoid this kind of stupidity? Take responsibility, (senator, golfer, president, Catholic bishop…insert your preferred title here). Take responsibility, marketing schmuck.

    Take responsibility, and tell the truth RIGHT NOW. Because we’re gonna find it out anyway.

    Comment by Adrian Astrakhan | March 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. Tina, Adrian: obviously an issue that invokes some passion. The “take responsibility” mandate is loud and clear. So much for the customer-first, mighty and forthright Toyota persona.

    Thanks for your verve, and Adrian, as usual, for your clutter-cutting poison pen. Not to mention, vocabulary.

    Comment by David Gordon Schmidt | March 1, 2010 | Reply

  4. 100% Agree.
    This will take Toyota and Mr. Toyoda a long time and lots of money to recover from this event.
    But good news for Ford and GM and they are capturing market share already as a result of their lack of focus on quality.
    And that is why we purchased a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid a couple of months ago.
    Don’t think the “No, Really You Can Trust Us This Time” approach is not going to work. Kinda like Health care reform will not increase costs. Yea Right……
    Thanks,
    Perry

    Comment by Perry Roberts | March 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. I agree completely. This campaign has the whiff of worried people saying, “Well, we’ve got to DO something! Now!”
    Yeah, Toyota did have to say something–but this wasn’t it.

    PS, Dave, I thought you’d enjoy this xkcd strip:
    http://xkcd.com/125/

    Comment by Mike | March 5, 2010 | Reply

  6. Mike: great little comic. Now if you can just get folks to say “best in the business” you can make sure those words are blabbed and re-blabbed all over the place. Groovy world it is.

    Comment by dschmidt14 | March 5, 2010 | Reply


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