Archive for the ‘automotive’ category

Toyota PR Efforts in Need of a Recall

February 6th, 2010

The public relations challenge currently being faced by Toyota is perhaps the greatest one faced by a major corporation since the Tylenol catastrophe in 1982. But while Johnson & Johnson deservedly received rave reviews for its forthright and expeditious handling of their situation, I have been far less impressed with Toyota’s response to date. In particular, I don’t think they’re giving the public the sense that they’re moving as quickly as possible to fix the cars on the road, or that they’re passionately determined to discover and address whatever flaws in their manufacturing processes allowed these problems to occur in the first place.

I give Toyota USA president Jim Lentz good marks for making himself available to the media, but low marks for his performance in front of the cameras. He comes across as a nice, mild-mannered, slightly nervous guy, and I don’t think that’s what consumers want to see. I think they want to see a leader with a passionate sense of urgency. Imagine how Lee Iococca–in his prime–would have handled this. I’m pretty certain he would have left viewers thinking, “Wow! There’s going to be hell to pay at Toyota until every single problem has been fixed, and I don’t think we have to worry about this situation ever happening again!”

In much of his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Mr. Lentz came across as a politician who had been coached–as he surely was–to not give any direct answers. While I realize that he has to be careful of what he says for legal reasons, that’s hardly an approach likely to build trust with your audience. What’s worse, in other parts of the interview he ignored this coaching and made self-incriminating statements without appearing to realize it. For example, he acknowledged that Toyota had known about one problem since October, but he didn’t go on to say what they’ve been doing to address the situation since then. As a result, he left the viewer with the (presumably inaccurate) feeling that Toyota simply ignored the problem–and put its customers at risk–for several months.

On February 5, Toyota uploaded a video to YouTube showing Mr. Lentz at a Toyota dealership announcing that repair parts are now being delivered to service departments. There are several problems with this piece. First, Mr. Lentz looks very unnatural walking through the service area, awkwardly gesturing repeatedly with his left hand like he’s dribbling an invisible basketball. Second, behind Mr. Lentz we see dozens of Toyota cars being repaired for unrelated problems, which doesn’t exactly reinforce the notion of Toyota’s high quality. And third, the video ends with a repairman making a repair to a faulty accelerator pedal. Inexplicably, there’s no narrator to explain what he’s doing, and he looks rather unsure of himself as he installs a part that presumably will correct the problem. It would be nice if there were a straightforward, impressive “before and after” demonstration, but there isn’t. In fact, I was left wondering, “Is that the fix? Seriously?”

Don’t get me wrong; Toyota is in a no-win situation, and it’s going to be difficult for them to look good no matter what they do. But an effective public relations effort can minimize the damage currently being self-inflicted upon the brand equity they’ve worked so hard to build over the past several decades. Unfortunately, the quality of their damage control is not much better than the apparent quality of their accelerator pedals.

GM: Does Better Advertising Signal a Better Company Tomorrow?

June 3rd, 2009

I just saw the first ad from the new General Motors “Reinvention” campaign, and I have to admit that I’m surprised–and impressed! (Check it out for yourself: Whether it will ultimately prove effective is impossible to say, as the odds are certainly not in GM’s favor. But if the refreshingly candid approach taken by this ad is any indication of the attitude that resides within the halls of this once-great company these days, I’d say their odds of making a successful comeback are greater than I would have thought.

The goal of this extremely well-written ad is to convey that GM gets it–that they realize they need to make big changes, and that they’re determined to get back on track. It begins with one of the most brutally candid lines you’ll ever hear in advertising:  “Let’s be completely honest–No company wants to go through this.” The challenge is for GM to admit they need to change without being overly apologetic, as it’s essential that this ad inspire confidence.  Upon first viewing, the ad seems to strike the right balance. Rather than simply saying “We messed up,”  it takes a subtly-but-significantly different tack by saying that things that made sense in the past do not make sense today. In doing this, GM reminds us that they were once a great company that made smart decisions, which suggests that perhaps they can once again be able to attain that level of greatness and intelligence. In short (althought the ad doesn’t say this), “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

There are some other verbal gems in this 60-second ad created by the Deutsch, Los Angeles ad agency, including, “This isn’t about going out of business. It’s about getting down to business. Because the only chapter we’re focused on…is Chapter One.”

As someone who has ranted several times about GM and its advertising during the past few weeks, it’s hard for me to believe that I just wrote the above paragraphs. And it’s clearly naive to think that a 100-year-old company plagued by decades of mismanagement is suddenly on the right track simply because of a well-written new ad campaign. Still, something tells me that the badly-damaged aircraft carrier that is GM is not only going to stop taking on water, but it just might start turning itself around as well. Either way, it’s going to very interesting see what Chapter Two holds.

Great. Marketing. Insight.

May 20th, 2009

One of the best TV commercials I’ve seen in a long time is the new “Beach” ad for the Honda Insight hybrid. If you haven’t seen it, please be my guest:

Everything about the ad is smart, which makes particular sense given that–in my opinion, anyway–driving a hybrid is a very smart thing to do. (My wife drives a Toyota Prius.) The visuals are very clever and engaging, and the background music is wonderfully infectious. In fact, it’s so good I had to find out more about the song. It’s title is “Honey Tree,” and the musician goes by the name of Mostar Diving Club.

Honda got everything right: The car looks great, the name is strategically appropriate, the tagline –”The hybrid for everyone”–nicely reinforces the car’s relatively low price, and the “clean and green” logo is–pardon the pun–a natural. Add it all up, and not only are you aware that there’s a new hybrid in town, but you come away feeling it features state-of-the-art technology and is fun to drive.

Were this a General Motors car (yeah, right!), the ad would surely focus on attacking the Prius. But it’s a Honda, and so it focuses on selling itself–and quite entertainingy at that. After all, when you’re smart enough to develop a product that has a good story to tell, you don’t need to resort to trashing your superior competitors.

How’s that for great marketing insight?

GM: Godawful Marketers

April 6th, 2009

Is it any wonder GM is about to choose between going bankrupt and becoming a ward of the state?

Smart companies use their advertising to creatively persuade you that their innovative products can solve your problems; dumb companies use their advertising to try to fool you into thinking that their imitative products are as good as their competitors.  And really dumb companies take cheap shots at their competitors.  The latest Chevy ad sets a new low–which is saying something, by the way–by comparing several of its vehicles to Honda’s on mileage and then poking fun at the fact that Honda also makes lawnmowers. The smirk on spokesman Howie Long’s mug is pathetic, leaving you wondering (a) why Chevy is feeling so cocky, and (b) why it thinks unfounded cockiness is an appealing trait.  Incidentally, this ad falls on the heels of a Chevy truck ad in which Mr. Long belittles an innovative feature on a Toyota truck.

As any marketer worth his or her salt knows, companies that aren’t clever enough to find something positive to say about themselves will resort to saying something negative about their competition.  Detroit has been taking potshots at their overseas competitors for years, and for virtually all of those years Detroit’s market share has continued to plummet.  Hmmmm…Does anyone else see a pattern here?

As a taxpayer, the last company I would want to own is General Motors.  On the other hand, if Honda were to become available…