2010’s Story of The Year

There was an avalanche of news in auto advertising this year.
The activity of ad agency changes was positively frenetic with Chevrolet, Mazda, Chrysler, Jeep and Mitsubishi all switching ad agencies, with two moves for Cadillac, plus GSD&M resigned BMW. The activity seemed to be just as brisk at the companies, which hired or installed new chief marketers.
Ad budgets started to rise as consumers slowly returned to showrooms and GM and Chrysler celebrated their first year out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
But AutoAdOpolis’ story of the year is Toyota’s incredible fall from grace.
Yes, Toyota, the car company with the bullet-proof teflon coat that seemed to be on an eternal upward trajectory to reach its goal of being the world’s biggest automaker. No one really saw it coming, Toyota included, apparently.
That ancient law of gravity – what comes up must come down – also applies to businesses and business cycles.
And Toyota went BOOM in a big way.
Toyota started 2010 with the worst crisis of its 50 years in this country- a massive recall tied to highly-publicized deaths.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there was the very public, image-damaging Congressional hearings, first with testimony from USA President-CEO Jim Lentz and then global chief Akio Toyoda.
In YouTube videos Toyota posted in early February, Lentz told us the sticky accelerators were “a rare situation.” He apologized profusely and told us Toyota wanted to regain customers’ trust.
Toyota tried two different trust-rebuilding TV commercials in the first quarter. First one called “Commitment”

Within a few weeks, that spot was scrubbed and replaced with one dubbed “Restore.”

Still Toyota braved on when, shortly after those mea culpa commercials, it launched the new Sienna. The campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles was light-hearted starring young parents who called the minivan their “swagger wagon.” (By year’s end there was a recall on the new Sienna) But the launch campaign ignored the entire recall mess, as did the eye-catching, retro blitz for the new Avalon.
Just when it looked like Toyota was out of the woods there was another recall.
BAM. And they just kept coming. BAM. BAM. BAM.
It was a tough scenario to witness.
Toyota didn’t just stumble. It fell flat on its face.
In the midst of the waves of recalls came lots of third-party research that cast a darker shadow on the brand and offered proof of the brand’s fall from grace.    KBB.com reported in May that Toyota had lost its top spot in the Automotive Brand Indicator to Ford for the first quarter of 2010. In May, J.D. Power + Associates told us the Toyota brand had fallen in its annual Initial Quality Study (based on owner responses) from seventh place in ’09 to number 21, and for the first time since 1998 the brand had falled to below the industry average.
To move the metal Toyota had its vehicles on sale virtually all year. Edmunds.com said Toyota’s incentives for the year jumped by 33%, while the industry average fell by 7% and that it took the brand 51 days to sell a Toyota in the fourth quarter vs. just 25 days in the last three months of 2009.
Toyota is now advertising its “Ideas for Good” feel-good, brand-building campaign to show it’s a good egg after all. The ads on tv, in print and online started in November from Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles focusing on how Toyota’s cool technology can be applied to other industries- all for the good, natch.

Toyota is urging people to submit their own ideas by the end of February and each winner in several non-auto categories will get…a new Toyota. More details here at http://www.toyota.com/ideasforgood
But some of the comments on Toyota’s YouTube channel about the Ideas For Good blitz aren’t very favorable. One says “I would use Toyota Technology to speed up the damn Toyota Technology ads so I wouldn’t have to watch them.” Another packs more venom: “I really hate all ya’lls stupid-as-hell ads. You’re only trying to make yourselves look good after the screw up you had with the hybrids randomly accelerating and killing people….”
Over the holidays Toyota tried to get people excited about the models it will unveil at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 10. The company posted what its misleadingly calling “a Pruis Family Sneak Preview” video on its YouTube channel, featuring Skateboarder Bob Burnquist.

Not much there there.
Repairing brand image ain’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Just ask GM, Ford, Chrysler, and yes- even Hyundai, which have all had turns in that barrel, as most automotive brands have at some time in their history.
Restoring consumer trust is no easy task. It can’t really be done with advertising alone. It will take time. Toyota and its dealers will have to prove themselves every day to many now-skeptical Americans.

Find me on Twitter: @jhal2001

Happy New Year !

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