Showing posts with label toyota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label toyota. Show all posts

Friday, February 18

Gaming Apologies: Empty Without Empathy

Last year, Bob Conrad was one of a few communicators who stood in defense of Toyota while it was savaged in media coverage over recalls. This year, ample evidence has been released that demonstrates Toyota was essentially proven to not be at fault for the accidents.

I was less sympathetic, but only because Toyota made the decision to apologize too quickly. It had come before Toyota had even identified the problem.

Why? They assumed their own guilt because of a rushed and improper situation analysis. Once they apologized and accepted guilt, nobody was ready to believe them again, at least not right away.

Taco Bell isn't handing out apologies. They're handing out tacos.

In the wake of a lawsuit claiming that Taco Bell is misleading consumers into believing it serves "seasoned ground beef" as opposed to "taco meat filling," dozens were prompted to make jokes and try to turn allegations into opportunity at the expense of the chain.

Had the company employed the ten commandments of social media crisis management, they would have rushed in, taken their lumps, and said they were sorry. So why didn't they?

Personally, I'm not a fan of fast food but I have to give them props. They paused long enough to conduct a situation analysis and conclude they aren't guilty. Their taco filling contains considerably more beef (88 percent) than the plaintiffs want people to believe (35-36 percent). The courts will decide the rest, but the public crisis appears to have been abated.

Most apologies are meaningless anyway.

Perhaps worse than not offering an apology when it is warranted is offering one that doesn't sound like much of an apology. Ask Nir Rosen.

He had every reason to apologize after some of the mean-spirited remarks he made related to the Lara Logan atrocity. And he did apologize, sort of, maybe not.

Nir Rosen"There's probably some larger lesson about social media to be drawn here, and how its immediacy can be great in its power to connect us," Rosen wrote. "But also a liability because something blurted out and not meant to be serious acquires a greater power."

Um, hardly. There is no larger lesson about the immediacy of social media to be learned from Rosen or how things might be taken out of context. There is, however, a lesson that can be drawn from his article. It appears to be the one quality he seems to lack.

Empathy is the most important aspect of an apology.

It's simple. Apologies are meant to be an expression of empathy from the guilty. And, when they are well meant, they might elicit forgiveness. But without empathy, they're empty words — a ploy concocted by public relations and propaganda.

Some public relations professionals advise that apologies are critical to protecting reputation, guilty or not. However, if they are delivered with a lack of empathy, it reveals something worse than no apology at all.

For Toyota, it showed how willing their executives were to trade strength of character for the illusion of reputation. And, for Rosen, it seem obvious that he is only ready to apologize for the damage he caused himself.

In fact, both of them might have fared better with non-apologetic empathy. For example, Toyota executives could have expressed their sympathy for any accident victims and their families while investigating the claims (perhaps offering to help even if they were not at fault). Or, perhaps Rosen could have reflected on how his words could have made sexual assault victims and women feel instead of intellectualizing his dilemma in an article.

And when no one was hurt? Taco Bell might have made the right play. Most people seem to be expressing empathy for them these days. That makes sense. Besides, their tacos only contain one-and-a-half ounces of seasoned beef anyway.

Thursday, July 15

Getting Swaggered: Old Spice And Minivans?

If social media buzz ruled the world, we'd all smell like Old Spice and drive minivans. And, without the benefit of the YouTube videos to back up the imagery of what we're supposed to relate to, it's a very frightening thought.

Thank goodness some people are interested in seeing sales numbers before adopting the practice of flash-in-the-pan spots where companies poke fun at themselves. But do ads that draw more attention to themselves than the product really draw in customers?

The Toyota Minivan Rap.

The first time I really gave the minivan rap half a thought was after Driven Media mentioned its marketing blog. I'm always interested in new marketing blogs, but was surprised to find some praise for the Toyota Minivan Rap, which has been shared everywhere for approximately 4.5 million views.

Sure, it's almost funny, creative, and pokes fun at the embattled Toyota company. But why did it really receive attention? It was the first attempt at a campaign since the recall crisis. At least one media outlet asked if it was racist (I don't see how). And even the talent and agency attracted some attention. But what about the minivan?

The irony? There really isn't a minivan market anymore. Last year, minivan sales plunged to 415,000, partly due to the fact that most minivans get an estimated 19 miles per gallon.

Another irony? For all the sharing, I wonder how people would feel if they knew a consumer offered up one rap one year earlier? Still, as they say in Japan, all is forgotten in 70 days.

The Old Spice Man Spontaneity.

Even more viral than the minivan rap is the Old Spice guy. Much like a drunken party, everyone is piling on to say how brilliant the creative is without fear of a hangover. I won't question that. It's funny stuff, much funnier than the minivan video. I love reading about how they made it.

There is no question the video series is a temporary social media success story. Here are some stats, driven by the unpredictability of it all.

On the flip side, some people are questioning the product smell. That question really helps pinpoint what needs to be asked.

While the campaign might convince people to give Old Spice a try (maybe), what happens after that? It all depends on the product. But more importantly, even if changes to the product will help push it along, can the Old Spice success be attributed to social media?

NO. If people read business magazines more than they watch YouTube videos, they would already know Old Spice had inched by Right Guard to become the nation's leading deodorant and antiperspirant for men. So, this might not be a social media success story at all.

This is a long-term rebranding effort that started a long time ago, with the opening image above a part of it all. So, the social media series is just another step. And knowing this might prompt other questions all together. Does the social media series run counter to the investment that gave Old Spice a base to connect with on YouTube? It's hard to say, but there is one last irony.

One of the Old Spice products also includes a "Swagger" strip as part of the product positioning. So maybe the initial idea that minivan owners are Old Spice customers isn't far off after all. The only thing weird about that is that Tony Stewart doesn't drive one of those around the track.

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Monday, May 17

Engineering Trust: Can Toyota Do It?

According to a recent study by Consumer Reports, Toyota has lost more than sales in the first quarter. It has experienced a spiraling decline in consumer loyalty.

In April, 57 percent of current Toyota owners said they would "most likely" buy another new vehicle from Toyota, which is down from 70 percent in December, with Honda and Ford the new beneficiaries. While Toyota has lost some consumers permanently, Honda now tops consumer loyalty with 68 percent of Honda owners saying they would buy another Honda. Ford has climbed to 61 percent.

While Toyota did manage to curb sales losses with zero-interest financing and cheap leases, it could be undermining its own long-term brand value as incentives tend to be quick fixes that competitors can match. And, if continued too long, can create consumer expectations to wait for more historic sales once they are over. Toyota's defensive posture throughout its recall crisis may have long-term consequences.

"There's permanent damage there," James Bell, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, told the Daily Finance. Though not fatal, the recalls require that "Toyota compete in a way they haven't in 25 years."

Restoring Trust Starts At The Local Level With Dealerships.

If Toyota wants to regain long-term consumer loyalty, it may need to reconsider national sales efforts and focus in on where trust really counts — with individual dealerships. While reliability may no longer be associated with the once admired auto manufacturer, dealers could make the difference with one-on-one consumer-dealer communication and outperforming on service expectation.

A recently published five-month study by Foresight Research backs up such analysis. More than 50 percent of all new car buyers surveyed reported the dealership experience as being "highly influential in the purchase process." In fact, dealership experience is the number one factor positively influencing sales during the car buying experience.

"At a time when the dealership network is under increased pressure across the industry, this data clearly supports that no single aspect of the automotive sales and marketing spectrum is more influential than what happens inside the dealership," said Steve Bruyn, president of Foresight Research. "Many buyers visit the dealer early in the shopping process, not just at the end of the process so automotive marketers have a big opportunity to win new customers and build brand equity by offering attractive dealership environments."

To capture a positive in-person experience, the burden primarily resides on the sales team. Study respondents attribute positive experiences with professionalism (90 percent), product knowledge (84 percent), and trustworthiness (66 percent). Sixty-seven percent also said that inviting, modern and well-organized showrooms makes a difference.

When you stop to think about it, the new study goes well beyond auto sales. These factors tend to be the same underlying trait associated with sales professionals, consultants, and even bloggers, online and off.

But for Toyota specifically, the national brand needs to work at non-incentive reasons to drive people into the dealership and then encourage their dealers not to blow it. And, for some dealers, that may require a culture change.

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Saturday, March 6

Writing For Public Relations: The Importance Of Planning

Planning is one of the single most important functions of public relations and/or corporate communications, and yet it remains the single most neglected function. More than half of small companies operate without it (CDW Report, 2009). Of companies that have plans, most do not update them regularly. Fewer measure performance against the plans they create.

Small companies are not alone. Medium and large companies have plans that are often outmoded or ignored. Even companies that do have plans seem to have little faith in them, given that fewer than 15 percent measure external communication (IABC Research Foundation). And only 15 percent of internal communicators say they can demonstrate a return on investment.

So, every year, I provide students with a basic communication outline. This year, I created a supplement deck using Toyota as the model. The supplement is only a sketch of a strategic communication plan, but it still manages to pinpoint communication challenges, opportunities, and failures experienced by the company in recent months.

The above deck is a supplement teaching tool for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The intent of this deck is to provide students with an applied case study to underscore elements contained within a handout.

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Monday, February 15

Selling Cars: Transparency Helps, Except Toyota

"Stores that fully merchandise their inventory stand out from their competitors, connect with shoppers, and position themselves to win more than their fair share of the deals." — Michael Page, vice president of advertising products,

The assessment by Page comes out of an in-depth analysis of Internet merchandising on online shopping behavior presented by at the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention & Expo. The study found that cars advertised with multiple photos, descriptive sales copy, and a competitive price capture more consumer interest. How much more?

• Competitive prices received 191 percent more page views and 263 percent more contacts.
• Pages with 11 or more photos received 175 percent more page views and 127 percent more contacts.
• Certified manufacturer logos received 18 percent more views and 34 percent more contacts.

Despite findings that tracked more than 230,000 listings over two years, 7 percent of dealerships list without a price, 13 percent without a photo, and 13 percent with no sales copy. Beyond cars, the study validates that consumers respond better to transparency — they require a more detailed account of the vehicle than if they were shopping for the vehicle in person.

The Cost Of Crisis For Toyota

Of course, none of this counts for Toyota. One survey shows that as many as 27 percent of would-be Toyota car purchasers will longer consider the manufacturer. This is six points lower than the initial recall.

As mentioned last week, Toyota acted too fast in making promises for improvement. Specifically, it hadn't identified more problems across scores of vehicles. Most recently, Toyota recalled 8,000 Tacoma pickups due to possible cracks in a common drive shaft component.

Its recall page now lists 12 models, dating back to as far as 2004. Yet, Toyota continues to run its Super Bowl advertisement that assures consumers that the recall is related to a slip in safety standards in recent days. If recent days is a relevant term, then Toyota's problems may have begun almost 2,000 days ago.

Toyota is also running an aggressive Google campaign, with copy that undermines its own crisis efforts. The Google ad reads "Toyota takes care of its customers Read the FAQs at" despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

There is increasing consumer and expert sentiment that suggests the crisis is becoming unrecoverable despite the recent pledge from Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

On a positive note, the company has adopted one of our suggestions: a top-to-bottom review of every process related to quality in design, production, sales and service. This should have been the direction that Toyota took on day one of the recall. Why the advertising message hasn't aligned itself with the pledge is anybody's guess.

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Tuesday, February 9

Moving Sideways: Toyota

"You're always hearing these very silly PR people when a crisis hits dive in front of the camera and dish out this ridiculous cliche that if you just fessed up, the problem would go away." — Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources.

Two days after investing $3 million on a Super Bowl recall advertisement that flatlined with viewers who were using an online dial testing system to determine their level of interest, Toyota announced the recall of 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles worldwide. It is yet another bump in a series of what the company has called a lapse in safety standards.

High Points Of The Toyota Recall

Overall, Toyota has done a fine job managing most elements of its recall communication, including the development of a recall page on its Web site. One of the best elements includes videos that identify three problem areas that led to the recall and a detailed stopping procedure to minimize driver risk while they return their vehicles to the shop.

Another bright spot is the Toyota recall plan. Within days, Toyota introduced a recall plan to notify owners, schedule an appointment with some dealers offering extended hours of operation, and reinforcement that some trained technicians are making repairs.

The recall communication effectively focuses on what is important: identifying the problems, offering immediate solutions, outlining what owners need to do, stopping production until the problem is fixed, and providing updates on the repair status.

This had led Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, to conclude that the situation is manageable, even if the company didn't start well out of the gate. The problem many companies face, in part, he says, is that they communicate too fast.

Low Points of Toyota Recall

In an effort to respond rapidly, Toyota catered to the American appetite for an apology, with Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. While there is nothing really wrong with an apology (despite being confusing in exactly what the apology is for), branding the recall a "sticky pedal situation" was probably not the best choice of words. (His appearances on news programs are smart.)

Another low point is the decision to cash in on the reputation of the company too early. Much like the Super Bowl ad, Toyota is delivering a message that claims for more than 50 years safety has been the highest priority. The advertisement then reveals that "in recent days" the company hasn't been living up to those standards.

This recall communication focuses on accepting responsibility, admitting guilt, and promising to never let it happen again. Unfortunately, Toyota had not yet identified the extent of its recall. So as these messages move forward, additional recalls seems to contradict the message. This is the third time in recent months that Toyota has contradicted itself.

This had led Gene Grabowski, chair of crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications, to dub this recall as the worst handled in history because consumer anxiety persists and the messages have been mixed. The problem, in part, he says, is that Toyota was too slow in taking action.

Initial Outcomes Of The Recall

Like many recalls, the Toyota crisis plan has been a mixed bag. The truth is somewhere in between the assessments by Grabowski and Dezenhall. Dezenhall is right in that recalls are not all public relations. There are mechanical and operational considerations. Grabowski is right in that Toyota was too slow to take action with what is shaping up to be a slew of problems.

The real damage to Toyota is impossible to assess at the moment. The number of recalls, especially those unrelated to the original problem, further erodes the company's credibility. And with every new apology Toyota issues now, each subsequent apology means less and less.

In this situation, Toyota would have been better served confining its initial communication to the recall at hand before accepting what seemed to be an across-the-board lapse in safety on one issue. Had they delayed an initial apology that isolated the problem to a single flaw, the company may have discovered there were several more recalls ahead and used the initial recall as a catalyst for investigating every detail.

Specifically, Toyota could have used the "sticky pedal situation" as a catalyst for an investigation, and then breaking the news (as the result of that investigation) that safety standards were not being met across the board, including accelerator pedals, brake pedals, steering columns, and who knows what else.

Meanwhile, instead of producing commercials attempting to cash in on the company's credibility bank, the crisis communication team ought to have been investigating exactly who knew what when so new stories do not undermine current efforts. For instance, breaking today, State Farm says it warned Toyota about an accelerator defect in 2007.

We'll provide some crisis communication points as it pertains to this situation in days ahead, including on how this plan would differ from the introduction to crisis communication boiler plate. Otherwise, there seem to be only two factors saving Toyota at the moment.

First, the problems did not result in an epic number of fatalities. Second, all automakers generate some negativity nowadays.

How negative? Of all the manufacturers with ads that aired during the Super Bowl, only two vehicles weren't dialed down when the brand was first revealed in the commercial. Those two brands: Volkswagen and Kia. See for yourself.

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Thursday, October 29

Finding Funny: Six Guidelines For Humor In Advertising

Earlier this year, Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and a founding partner of Naked Communications, wrote a post that claimed humor in advertising doesn't work. Looking at the recent gaffes by, Pepsi, and Toyota, we draw a different conclusion. Most advertising humor isn't funny.

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” — Oscar Wilde

In truth, there have been scores of studies conducted on humor in advertising over the past 25 years. One of the most famous was conducted by Paul Speck back in 1987. He found that humorous ads increased initial attention, sustained attention, and retention. (You can find his dissertation here.)

Add to this early work: a Clear Channel presentation about outdoor advertising that revealed humor outperformed straightforward by as much as 3:1; most estimates suggest 80 percent of viral success stories include humor; and a new study conducted by Madelijn Strick from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland that concludes comedy is important to have a positive impact on customers. There are hundreds more.

So, if the problem isn't funny, what is the problem with funny? The problem seems to be that funny has to be funny to work. Unfunny, on the other hand, only creates negative impressions. And unfortunately, unfunny is much more commonplace as advertising writers seem to have forgotten that marketing humor doesn't enjoy the same liberties as entertainment writing.

Six Guidelines To Finding Funny For Advertising

The first rule of advertising is that there are no rules. Divergent thinking has always sold and will continue to sell. However, there are guidelines that can help reduce the risk of producing an unfunny campaign that backfires like those mentioned yesterday.

Guideline 1: Funny Is Inclusive, Not Exclusionary
All three backfires have an exclusionary construct. They attempt to be funny at the expense of others. Marketing humor works best when it's inclusive — when we laugh at ourselves or with a group we belong to. (If Motrin made baby carriers, they may have escaped the wrath of angry moms).

Guideline 2: Funny Rolls Uphill, Not Downhill
Two of the backfires make fun of stereotypes that are perceived to be "inferior" to the position of the teller. For advertising, comedy is better positioned to roll uphill. Illegal aliens can make fun of lawyers, but lawyers cannot make fun of Illegal aliens.

Guideline 3: Funny Is Contextual
Context isn't everything, but it always counts. There have been several people making the context case lately, but the idea has been around awhile. The message, medium, and moment are all important when it comes to funny. Two of the backfires miss this idea entirely.

Guideline 4: Funny Is Situational
When people make mistakes, making fun of the mistake might be funny. For example, making fun of United Airlines' mistake is funny. Political gaffes are funny. Big business missteps are funny. However, always keep in mind that what is funny today may not be funny tomorrow. One backfire, for example, tried a joke two years too late.

Guideline 5: Funny Is Relative
When a character that people can relate to becomes the brunt of the joke, it might be funny. That's why marketing that makes fun of office settings tend to work. No one is really singled out, and many of us can relate as an audience. All three backfires never consider their relation to the audience. The humor might make them laugh, but nobody else is really laughing.

Guideline 6: Funny Is About Constraint
Advertising humor also works best when it shows some constraint. If people talk about a joke but cannot remember the product or service, you lose. All three backfires seem to disassociate themselves from the humor. In fact, one backfire does it so well that most of their gags were passed over by consumers. (Nobody really friended their fake MySpace accounts.)

But beyond all that, humorists also need to remember that funny is hard work. Off-the-cuff quips that come up in a creative session seldom make the cut. They have to be worked, reworked, and worked again. That said, here are three five-second solutions that my have played better than what those unfunny writers cooked up (because that's all the time we had).

Legal Advice Without An Argument? There's An App For That.

Or, related in subject matter. We Won't Chase You For A Change. Immigration Advice.

Lesson: Making fun of clients is not funny. Making fun of your profession might be funny.

Play A Prank On Toyota. The Matrix

Lesson: A car company playing pranks on people is not funny. Playing pranks on a car company might be funny.

Life's Too Short. Amp Up When They Shoot You Down. Pepsi

Lesson: Taking advantage of a nerdy girl is not funny. Being shot down by one might be funny.

Get it? Sure, humor is subjective, which is why it can be risky. But when writers consider a few simple guidelines, smart and unexpected humor in advertising can potentially be successful, sustainable, and have a shot at going viral.

Wednesday, October 28

Failing At Funny:, Pepsi, and Toyota

In the quest for attention, it seems more and more marketing teams are opting into comedic routines. And, more and more, most of them are only creating their own public relations nightmares. Here are three recent favorites before an explanation that pinpoints why advertisers seem to be missing the mark. Yanks Ad That Jabs At Illegal Immigration recently created an ad for a fictitious iPhone “app” ad called iCoyote. The app supposedly packed “all of the features of a real immigrant smuggler into the iPhone. Using GPS, navigate through the patrol packed desert without worrying about that pesky Border Patrol.”

After the ad earned attention from Adam Ostrow at Mashable, the creative that was attributed to "the tasteless sense of humor of two employees that are likely to be fired” was taken down. In its place, posted a half-hearted apology.

We regret posting the iCoyote social media experiment. Obviously, this campaign did not hit the mark and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the content. Our mission is to help consumers find legal information, and if necessary, with legal counsel and we're continually striving to find creative ways to introduce people to

Toyota Earns Negative Impressions Over Lawsuit

Toyota, with some help from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, hit "publicity pay dirt" after its faux-stalker campaign landed the company in a lawsuit. Right. It seems someone forgot to tell Amber Duick that she had agreed to be the brunt of the joke as she believed someone really was stalking her.

The prank, covered by Techdirt and the Consumerist, may cost the company as much as $10 million after Duick "had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work" because she believed a "lunatic" stranger was planning to visit.

According to the coverage, she even received a bill from a hotel that the stranger supposedly "trashed." So far, Toyota is standing firm on its commitment to comedy, saying Duick opted in via a disclaimer.

That excuse is about as funny as hiding evidence from plaintiffs in cases stemming from highway deaths and injuries across the U.S.

Pepsi Pushes Feminist Buttons Over iPhone App

Another "app" accident (and this one is real) comes from the same people who approved the defacing of the Tropicana brand. PepsiCo Inc. promised to help men "score" with two dozen stereotypes of women. The apps give participants pickup lines and a scoreboard. Well, sort of.

Nancy Johnston, columnist for The Baltimore Sun, hit upon some of the "humorous" anecdotes in her column: "Meet a girl who's gone through a bad breakup? Pepsi will help you find an ice cream parlor to take her to, so she feels you really care. Want to convince twin sisters to get a little romantic (and incestuous)? The application thoughtfully supplies groin, hip and back exercises, so you don't pull any muscles during your conquest."

Pepsi has since apologized, but the apology seems to have picked up on the pat "poke fun at yourself" exercise that has crept into the public relations playbook. The apology reads: "Amp tweeted, “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback” and then adds its own “pepsifail” hashtag (#).

So What Have Advertisers Forgotten About Funny?

There is no question that "funny" ads attract more attention than straightforward advertising. When done right, consumers forget the pitch and then run off to share the punchline with family and friends. I even have a few studies for students that reveal funny can increase retention and response rates by as much as 300 percent over not-funny advertisements.

So what's going wrong?

Some claim that Americans are losing their sense of humor. There is certainly some truth to the theory, and anyone can make an adequate case (I've even made this case in past case studies). However, the real culprit isn't the public. The real failure seems to be too much cheap shot comedy.

Cheap shot comedy includes all those lovable little quips that occur all the time in entertainment. It's top of mind and off the cuff that is funny in the moment or given a specific situation. Otherwise, it wouldn't be funny at all.

Stand-up comedians and late night talk show hosts rely on an ample supply of cheap shot comedy. And, some of it works in sitcoms too, because the context is expansive and fictional. So why doesn't it work for advertisers?

Since companies are not comedians and advertising is more contextually inclusive than situational, writing funny advertisements seldom includes shooting from the hip. In fact, most funny lines bounced around during a creative brainstorming session are supposed to be burned up and forgotten because they are not funny outside the moment.

Don't misunderstand me. Humor works for advertising. It's also hard work. Hard enough that you'll have to come back tomorrow if you want some tips in how to make it work. I might toss up a few solutions for the three "funny fail" ads above or I might make fun of them instead. I haven't decided.

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