Toyota Defending its Image with TV Spots, Print Ads and Its Website

Early in 2010, Toyota demonstrated how much crisis management has evolved in recent years. Decades ago, airlines cancelled all advertising after a plane crash. Some even had standing agreements with stations to pull ads off immediately after a crash. The purpose was to avoid associating the airline with a disaster as much as possible.

Running a “friendly skies” or similar airline commercial in the midst of crash coverage was considered self destructive. Besides, it’s difficult for an airline to sell tickets right after one of its planes go down.

Following a series of massive vehicle recalls, Toyota faced:

  • Potential damage to its proud image
  • The possibility of losing thousands of vehicle sales
  • The decline of its heralded used car values, which is a major sales point for its new vehcles.

Unanswered questions

Of course, a sticking accelerator or brake pedal is not as dramatic as an airline crash. But the auto defects can affect more people than a plane crash. And while the crash is a single event, faulty vehicles remain a fear and conversation piece until the car manufacturer gets the parts and technical expertise together to correct the problem in every community,

Crisis management experts now urge companies to address such problems immediately, honestly and clearly. They caution against allowing the problem to turn into a long media event feeding on unanswered questions. They warn, most of all, against allowing the problem to become a coverup story.

In 1982 Johnson & Johnson demonstrated the wisdom of that forthright approach when someone messed with its Tylenol packaging.

Slow Response

Toyota heeded the advice, but some experts say it was too slow in responding. By the time the company committed to a message, it could no longer be handled through normal news and editorial channels. By then, there were too many questions to be addressed only in a news release.

Toyota began running commercials, print ads and website notices to apologize for the vehicle problems and to assure motorists—and members of Congress—that it was correcting the problems.

Advertising is often neglected as a public relations tool because it lacks the third person credibility that a news story carries. If not done correctly, ads can give the impression the company is trying to buy its way out of the problem. Put simply, a reporter and the news media carry more believability than a paid ad does.

But with today’s technology, ads and commercials can carry full messages rapidly. They give the advertiser an opportunity to tell its story in its own words and a good chance to get proper visibility in the media.

Websites Now Major Tool

Websites have also become major advertising tools in a crisis. Toyota used its ads to refer people to There it provided useful information to Toyola owners – and the news media – on how to handle recalled vehicles. It ran its TV commercial on the website, acknowledging that it had recently failed to live up to standards expected by its customers and itself. It vowed to correct the problems.

It also used the website to promote its fifth generation 4 Runner, trying to protect the value of used Toyotas by emphasizing how durable the SUV is. It offered savings of up to $2,000 on some Toyota models.

In early 2010, before Toyota launched its media blitz, industry observers said the company image had been tarnished badly. The length and depth of its fall would depend heavily on the effectiveness of its advertising and public relations campaigns and its success in correcting the vehicle problems.

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