a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Toyota plays catchup after disastrous start

Some weeks it is hard to come up with a topic for this blog. Other times it is hard to choose from a variety of rich topics. This week is one of the latter. So let’s look at several.

In the better-late-than-never category, Toyota this week stopped imitating a deer staring into the headlights and aggressively started shoring up the damage to its reputation for quality cars.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Sales USA, started this week with an appearance on NBC’s Today show to demonstrate suitable contrition and concern for the millions of Toyota owners around the planet. Lentz was the flag bearer in a media blitz yesterday on both sides of the border.

That appearance was validated by Toyota finally announcing a plan to fix the faulty accelerator that landed the car maker in a crisis of consumer confidence less than 14 days ago.

Contrast this decisive action with the Toyota’s fumbling last week. Last Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda hurriedly apologized to customers after being pursued by a Japanese television crew. Then he drove off in an Audi, according to ABC News. Fleeing executives make for bad optics no matter what business you’re in.

Up until the end of last week, Toyota’s web site had very little to say to consumers beyond its risk-adverse (and not very informative) news releases. Then at week’s end, somebody sprouted the good idea to tell customers how the hell they can stop their vehicles should they suddenly discover they have one of those faulty accelerator pedals.

Perhaps that represented the point where the company sought outside help to develop a real crisis plan. In a just a week Toyota has gone from the disastrous model of the Exxon Valdiz to the highly successful modus operandi of Maple Leaf Foods.

They appear to have learned that building a highly successful brand is one thing. Managing and protecting a reputation are quite another.


For all the attributes heaped on Steve Jobs of Apple, it would be interesting to read how he is able to play the media like a violin.

We saw another example of this last week when Jobs introduced the world to the much-hyped iPad. Although there has some even-handed and critical evaluations in the tech media, the general media for the most part was absolutely ga-ga. One commentator on the normally authoritative CBC bubbled that she absolutely had to have an iPad.

You would have to look very hard to find any mention of some of Apple’s past marketing failures, of which there have been many. Remember the Newton PDA? How about Apple Cyberdog, which was supposed to knock out Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Macintosh TV? Apple Lisa? Puck Mouse? And so on.

This is no criticism of Jobs. There is no crime in being a master of gaining earned media.

But too often the modern media on both sides of the border won’t let truth get in the way of the narrative of least resistance.


And finally, by now we are all familiar with the government’s talking points about the need to appoint five new Tory senators to stop the dastardly Liberals from abusing their strength in the upper chamber to obstruct and gut law-and-order legislation needed to keep Canada safe for decent folk.

The Conservatives have repeated this narrative often enough for thousands of Canadians to actually believe it.

But as Canadian Press reports, actual records don’t support the government’s claims.

In the last session of Parliament, the Tories put forward 19 criminal justice bills. Eleven of these were still being dealt with in the Commons when Prime Minister Stephen Harper ended the session with prorogation and thereby killed them on the order paper.

Of the eight law and order bills that made it to the Senate, four were passed without controversy by what was then a Liberal-dominated chamber.

Two more bills were still being studied at Senate committees when Harper pulled the plug.

Another bill to scrap the long-gun registry originated in the Senate but was deliberately held back by the government in favour of a private member’s bill that would have done the same thing.

The final bill that made it to the upper chamber was actually passed by the Senate. This bill would have imposed minimum mandatory sentences on people running marijuana grow-ops.

The Liberals added some amendments that would have given some judicial discretion in cases involving less than 200 plants and the government claims those changes gutted the bill in an impasse that was unresolved at the time of prorogation.

Maybe the Liberals are soft on crime, as the Tories insist. But this would show the Tories are soft on the truth when it comes to crime and the Senate.


  1. What I find interesting about Apple and the media is, as you said, most seem to go absolutely crazy for the company's products, without thinking critically about its usefulness, price point, or the competition it faces. It seems that everyone assumes Apple products will be massive successes. What short memories we have, as you rightfully pointed out. I wouldn't have ever remembered 3/4 of the ones you named, had you not just brought them up. I wonder if, in 5 years, anyone will actually remember the iPad.

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