Toyota’s damage control… is it working?

Posted February 9, 2010 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

Have you seen Toyota’s new ad campaign?  It’s a slick little number designed to rebuild their brand reputation after a giant recall of over eight million cars globally over pedal concerns.

Initially criticized by trade journals and the general media as caring more about their image than their customers, Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO, finally came out with a public apology late last week.  And, we now have some shiny new ads in rotation that talk about the companies’ long history in North American and how it’s committed to rebuilding consumer trust.

It looks great… but is it going to have the intended effect?  Are putting messages that essentially say “we’ve been around for years and never screwed up like this before” really what Toyota buyers need to hear?  On top of that, Toyoda’s own public apology is being slammed for being “self serving”.

It makes me think that sometimes, as a leader, you can actually contribute to embedding your problems vs. moving past them by simply implementing the wrong strategy.

Case in point:  compare and contrast the Toyota crisis control strategy of a slick pr push with the approach that leadership team at Maple Leaf Foods took in response to the listeria crisis in 2008.

CEO Michael McCain got front and centre, personally emphasizing his commitment to getting the problems fixed and updating viewers and readers on the specific actions the company had taken.  It was honest, forthright, heartfelt and focussed on results.  McCain seemed to be everywhere, proactively addressing concerns and answering questions.  There was no hiding behind a snappy commercial.

In times of crisis, people want to hear directly from the guy or gal at the top.  Maple Leaf seems to have bounced back fairly well from their challenges.  Time will tell if Toyota will be as successful in putting this misstep behind them.

Next time you find yourself doing damage control, think carefully about your strategy.  My guess is that honesty and authenticity is the best way to go over “polished and slick” any day.

Happy leading!

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