Toyota: There’s No Such Thing as Bad PR?

The hottest topic these days for the auto industry is the Toyota fiasco. Americans can’t escape the coverage of the fall of the mighty, seemingly invincible giant. The spotlight is blaring on the Japanese automaker, which over the years has successfully built a reputation of bullet-proof quality with so-so advertising.

The saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is wrong. Make no mistake- Toyota and its lux Lexus brand have black eyes. The hearings in Washington pulled the curtain back on some startling revelations- the automaker who told us for years it puts customers first ignored the complaints of owners and basically called them liars..

Toyota needed to tell its side of the story fast, but didn’t, so the press had a field day trouncing the company, putting Toyota on the defensive along many different lines. The company dragged its feet reacting- not just responding to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but in getting some ad messaging out there quickly.

Toyota issued a recall Jan. 21 for sticking accelerator pedals. But it took 10 more days for the company to come out with a mea-culpa newspaper ad in major dailies. On Feb. 1, Toyota put an apology video of its top American exec in the U.S., President-COO Jim Lentz on YouTube.

Lentz also made the rounds on TV programs and hosted a Twitter session.

Late in the first week of February, Toyota came out with a national TV commercial, called “Commitment.”

But within a few weeks, that spot was scrubbed, replaced with this one, called “Restore,” which is currently still on the air.

Meantime, Toyota decided to go ahead with the ad launch of the new Sienna minivan- not part of the recall. Here’s the introductory video that went live in early February featuring the young family that calls the Sienna the “Swagger Wagon” because of its style.”

These geeky parents who fancy themselves as “cool,” are in all the ads.

Incredible, eh, that Toyota is putting out these tongue-in-cheek ad communications for the Sienna, which absolutely ignore that the brand is facing undoubtedly the biggest crisis of its 50 years in the U.S.

Ya gotta wonder who is advising them.

Advice to Toyota: seek help from an experienced American crisis management expert and follow the advice to the letter.

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