Toyota’s PR nightmare

Toyota appeared to have made all the smart moves in the car industry. Their big bet on hybrids gave them a market when gas prices soared, leaving the US auto giants with an SUV dependent product line and a lot of inventory. Just when it looked like the car industry was about to recover Toyota has been hit with a problem that could damage the brand for decades. Sticking gas pedals are worrying for a driver (to say the least). They are made more worrying when the maker of the car a) seems to ignore the problem and b) doesn’t seem to have an immediate fix.

Toyota has been forced on to the defensive, which, as every PR operator knows, is the worst position to be in. Essentially they’ve made it hard for people to trust them. As a Toyota Prius owner I am amazed by the lack of direct communication. It’s as if they simply hope the problem will go away.

Toyota can get through this. But they need to focus on rebuilding trust and not simply saying sorry. That means doing things that will earn that trust. Right now, Toyota’s tag line of ‘moving forward’ couldn’t be funnier.

Clean conscience

Like many people in California I drive to and from work. In truth there is little choice unless you want to embark on a public transport system that would take twice the time and cost pretty much the same amount. I am due to change my car in a few months and have been getting my mind around the idea of buying a Toyota Prius. For the record I can’t say I like these cars very much. I fall in to the group that thinks they are relatively ugly. However, as someone that believes we need to do our part for the environment, a Prius seems the best bet. That said, when you look at the cost of a Prius, which is after all a pretty basic car, you realize that you are paying about a $10,000 premium to drive a car that is more eco friendly. As someone who typically owns a car for about three years that isn’t too bad when spread over the cars life – or is it? I’ve been looking at which, like in the UK, gives you a chance to buy carbon credits for all the nasty emissions your life produces. For example, you can pay about $200 and that will apparently make your home carbon neutral for a year, a similar sum would handle emissions from most people’s annual air travel. When it comes to cars the TerraPass site estimated the cost of clearing out my emissions to be $50 a year for my current vehicle or $30 a year for a Prius. You can see where this is going can’t you? So for $150 I could make up for my car’s emissions during its time in my hands. Put another way if I bought a slightly more attractive car that actually cost less than the Prius but wasn’t as eco friendly I could use the saving to buy a massive amount of carbon credits. Indeed I’d likely have enough credits for all the people that read this article. So what do I do? Should I buy the Prius and feel good about it’s eco stats or get something cheaper and buy each of you a carbon credit?

Toyota thinks outside the box

There is a computer game out now that requires you click on a veiled object to move to the next level. That object turns out to be a Toyota Yaris. This is all a part of Toyota’s effort to reach the youth market. I learned this from a NPR story this morning. There are also a string of games out now that have billboards inserted at certain locations in the game. Nothing exciting about that except when you play online, these billboards check your IP address and where possible other sources and then load billboard ads that are more targeted. Imagine, it’s 8pm and you’re locked in battle with some alien on your computer. OK, I can’t quite imagine as I’m not a gamer but if I was then it would make sense that an ad on the building I’m approaching which houses the alien I’m trying to kill would be for the local pizza place. I mention all this for the simple reason that as traditional advertising dies along with traditional media, the creative minds being applied to interactive ads are coming up with some great thinking. Is the PR industry applying similar thought? I’ve seen glimpses of it but I worry that at a time when PR could be taking a bigger slice of the marketing pie we are not being creative enough.