Friday, January 29, 2010

The Toyota Brand Sinking? C’mon

Of the relatively few dumb statements published about Toyota’s current recall troubles—one by Maryann Keller quoted in a Bloomberg story, “People aren’t going to buy Toyotas . . . their image is finished . . . ”—is premature, but silly enough to get a reporter to bite. And here’s another statement, by Brenda Wrigley (chair of the Department of Public Relations at Syracuse University’s School of Public Communications) and quoted by the Associated Press on January 27, 2010, “The story just kind of drags on. That’s just deadly for a reputation. It just spirals into a big situation that’s probably going to have long-term financial impact for the company. Quality was their differentiator and now it’s their Achilles heel.” How about some history?

Jerry Delefamina, a brilliant, Long Island advertising maven of the ’80s and ’90s, told ABC News (and many other news outlets in 1982) that Tylenol would disappear as a brand within a year after the mysterious 1982 Chicago-area cyanide poisonings where seven died, there were copycat cases, which caused a massive recall of the product. The capsules were off the market for six weeks.

In 1986, there was second Tylenol tampering cyanide poisoning, this time in Westchester County, New York that caused one death, another massive recall, and the end of Tylenol capsules over the counter for 25 years.

McNeil Laboratories (the division of Johnson and Johnson that makes Tylenol) and J&J’s handling of the two incidents set the global standard for ethical, open, and disclosive crisis response and public communication for industries, government, and commercial organizations around the world.

Toyota’s response is clearly meeting this global standard. The Toyota brand, like Tylenol, is likely to be stronger as a result of such excellent, open, and responsive corporate behavior.

Negative speculation, which the media loves more than the truth, by so called experts, only serves to underestimate the intelligence, competence, and loyalty of satisfied customers.

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