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Toyota and BP: Surviving the crisis

By Judi Schindler, Principal

As both Toyota and BP wage war to preserve their brands in the face of colossal crises, my money is on Toyota.

Last November, when the story broke about safety issues and mammoth recalls, the Japanese automaker violated every rule in the crisis management book by foot-dragging on safety issues, minimizing problems, distributing misleading statements and showing too little compassion. As a result, it suffered from stinging articles in the media and became the butt of every talk-show comedian.

Then, sometime in February, Toyota seemed to get its communication act together. President Akio Toyoda appeared before Congress and apologized. The company established “Smart Teams” of 200 engineers to investigate individual issues and appointed nine quality officers worldwide who could answer media questions

It created webcasts to respond to critics regarding gas pedal and electronic system issues and launched a website designed to address the issues. One of the most effective sites features video interviews of Toyota owners who have brought their cars in for recall repairs – all of whom express confidence that “if something is wrong, Toyota will fix it.”

Then there’s BP, whose issues are massive and ongoing. Worst of all, top management at the petroleum company seems to compound one misstep (or misspeak) on top of another.

On the other hand, BP hasn’t done everything wrong. The company has a well-executed  website, which includes videos, photos and press releases on the cleanup, where you hear first-hand from the individuals who are out in the Gulf every day working to contain the damage. (One video features actor Kevin  Costner praising BP’s efforts.) There are also state-by-state updates, claims forms and information on how to file a claim.

Both the BP and Toyota websites get high marks. But let’s assess the damage to the two brands.

There is no question that the carmaker’s consumer loyalty has slipped, but in the first quarter of 2010, 57.6% of trade-ins resulted in purchase of new Toyota – higher than any other brand. Sales have also recovered, up 24.4% in April, and in May the company reported net profits were 48% higher than the same period in 2009.

The public is not quite so forgiving of BP, especially since the crisis situation has yet to be abated. On June 21, several dozen demonstrations took place in cities across the country as part of the “Worldwide BP Protest Day,” a Facebook group that claims to have more than 350,000 supporters. Four days later, on June 25, the company’s stock hit an all-time low of $28.56 low, down nearly 53% since April 20.

So what’s the prognosis? In my opinion, the general public is more favorably disposed to Toyota than to BP. Toyota has a long history of building reliable automobiles and providing good service. It has happy car owners. Energy companies, like BP, do not enjoy the same favorable image. While BP had a better reputation than most oil companies, the entire industry has a reputation for price gouging and air pollution.

Toyota simply has a larger storehouse of goodwill, and, frankly, we are more willing to forgive someone we like.

The moral of the story is that crisis management must begin long before a crisis ever occurs – by building a reputation for dealing responsibly with the consumers, by behaving like a good corporate citizen, by providing reliable products and services and by communicating openly and candidly with its many publics. In other words, a company that nurtures and maintains good public relations over a period of years will have a better chance of surviving a crisis than one that doesn’t.

July 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm Leave a comment

A few choice words: What makes a good slogan?

Judi Schindler

Having developed slogans and taglines for numerous clients over the years, I know first-hand how difficult a task it is to encapsulate a brand with just a few cogent words. It gives you an appreciation for the really good ones, which Inc.com recognizes in a new list of the 10 top advertising slogans of all time.

Among them?

Apple – Think different
Wheaties – The breakfast of champions
Wendy’s – Where’s the beef?
M&Ms – Melts in your mouth not in your hands.
Miller Lite – Great taste. Less filling.
Nike – Just do it.
Maxwell House Coffee – Good to the last drop.
Clairol – Does she, or doesn’t she?
United – Fly the friendly skies.
Coca Cola – It’s the real thing.

They’re hard to argue with, although I would have preferred the Apple copywriters to think “grammatically.” I personally don’t relate to the notion that the last drop might taste different from the first – for any brand of coffee. And with the long-standing labor problems at United, it’s hard finding truth in the “friendly skies” tag.

On the whole, though, these all pass my personal criteria for a good slogan:

1. Is it memorable?
2. Does it ring true?
3. Is it distinguishing?
4. Does it speak to benefit?

Against that set of standards, here are a few on my own list of favorites.

Fed Ex – When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.

This worked for launching a brand new concept from a brand new company. The slogan both explains the service and makes it sound absolutely, positively credible.

Loreal – Because you’re worth it.
Volkswagen – Think small.
Smucker’s – With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.

All three are noteworthy for turning a negative into a positive. Loreal is expensive compared to competing products. The Volkswagen was introduced to the U.S. market when big, honking cruisers dominated the highways. And, with due respect to Mr. Smucker, he has a funny name. His agency wisely used that fact to advantage.

KFC – Finger lickin’ good.
Disneyland – The happiest place on earth.

Two more I like – simply because they are evocative. You can imagine yourself eating something so good, you want to savor the last taste off your finger tips. And what conjures better images than spending a day at the happiest place on the planet?

If you are interested in refreshing your memory or just want to look up old slogans, here is an online database with a very extensive collection. And please share your favorites – as comments – telling us why you like them!

September 11, 2008 at 3:29 pm 2 comments

Coming soon to a gas pump near you

Judi Schindler

Try Googling “digital out of home media.” In doing so this morning, I got 27,500 hits. My cursory research indicates that number will increase exponentially over the next few months.

What started as a kiosk in a hotel lobby or an occasional elevator video screen has now become a $2 to $3 billion industry with projections of $10 billion for next year. Some 900,000 screens are currently in place at gas stations, health clubs, coffee bars, train platforms – even men’s urinals. (Now there’s a thought.)

The advertising industry, which has been wringing its hands over the ever-slipping numbers for traditional media, is jumping on this bandwagon with both feet.

Many of the major ad agencies have formed special divisions to manage it. The media companies are delivering “narrowcast” programming. A new trade association (the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau) has been formed. And MediaPost, the online marketing publisher, held its first forum on the channel in April and launched Digital Outsider, a weekly e-letter, May 23.

And if there was any doubt about the legitimacy of the medium, the Nielsen Company, best known for its television ratings, is planning to launch a similar service for out-of-home media.

What’s all the fuss?

Proponents believe that out-of-home media is a way for advertisers to reach active, highly mobile consumers at times when they are more or less captive. They may be waiting for an airplane or train, sitting in the back of a taxi or waiting in line at a store – occasions when they have time to be attentive.

Media buys can be targeted by geography, interests, demographics. When combined with cell phones, out-of-home ads can be interactive. (Call or text for a free sample or coupon.)

Media Life Magazine says that travel, financial services and automotive are the top categories for out-of-home digital media. Local businesses like dry cleaners, real estate and healthcare providers are also said to do well with it.

While out-of-home may not be appropriate for all advertisers, others may well find it worth a test run. Success, however, will ultimately depend on targeting, messaging and integration with other forms of marketing.

May 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm Leave a comment

What’s to love about hating Sarah Marshall

Judi Schindler

In Chicago, you can’t help running into billboards that say “I am so over you, Sarah Marshall,” or “My mom always hated you, Sarah Marshall,” or cruelest of all, “You do look fat in those jeans, Sarah Marshall.”

So I bit. I went to www.ihatesarahmarshall.com to see what new promotional strategy was in play. What I found was a very engaging social marketing campaign for the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, starring Jason Segal (who plays Marshall on How I Met Your Mother) and Kristen Bell (best known for the title role in Veronica Mars).

The Web site purports to be a MySpace/Facebook site for Peter Bretter, a 26-year-old television composer. It lists his “Likes” (Muppets, Broadway Musicals) and “Dislikes” (Sarah Marshall Fan Club, people who mispronounce Dracula) and daily blogs since February 28, which chronicle his breakup with Sarah Marshall.

My favorite blog entries are camcorder videos that show Peter disintegrating from self-delusion to drunken despair. Daily entries keep viewers coming back for more.

I am not alone in taking notice of the campaign. The Slash Film blog had a posting a couple of days ago that calls the campaign “genius.” The NBC affiliate in Dallas ran a segment. And blogger Shandy King thought it was a novel way to promote a movie.

This kind of “teaser” campaign is actually not new. I remember Folgers Coffee’s introduction to Chicago decades ago, supported by billboards and newspapers ads for at least a month boasting “I will bring a mountain to Chicago – Captain Folger.”

What is new is the very targeted and integrated approach to reaching the 20-something marketplace. The billboards are concentrated on bus shelters and train platforms, which are heavily used by this demographic. Personal Web pages and blogs are still primarily “young” media. And the youthful language/humor helps create buzz among the target market.

The Sarah Marshall campaign reminds us that every marketing program geared to populations under the age of 40 (40 being the new 30) should have a strong Web component. Furthermore, it never hurts to entertain as well as inform. The use of humor can increase the number of people you reach exponentially, as your message gets passed along from one potential customer to another. Then the whole thing takes on a life of its own when you attract coverage from newspapers, TV and talk radio, not to mention blogs like this.

March 21, 2008 at 5:03 pm 1 comment

How higher ed can lower marketing costs

Judi Schindler

Institutions of higher learning typically benefit from a weak economy because unemployed workers are often forced back to school to learn new skills. With the current credit crunch, that may not be true this time around. According to recent press coverage in the Chicago Tribune and on MarketWatch, students who want to take out a loan to finance advanced education are encountering high interest rates or failing to qualify. Financing also has dried up for currently enrolled students.

That means lower enrollments for universities, colleges and trade schools, which are now scrambling to cut costs. Unfortunately, one place where most of the chopping occurs appears to be the marketing budget.

We all understand the need to trim. But the paring needs to be done with a scalpel, not an axe. And those wielding the sharp instruments should scrutinize the ROI of each item. Rather than simply reducing high-cost advertising and direct marketing campaigns, they may want to consider beefing up lower cost, targeted public relations and social marketing efforts.

Some ideas:

  1. Develop career and job placement stories for monster.com, careerbuilder.com and other Web sites geared to job seekers.
  2. Place feature stories on students or recent graduates in their hometown newspapers.
  3. Develop a career blog for each educational program and encourage contributors to promote their postings on their MySpace and Facebook profiles.
  4. Gain local visibility by inviting area residents and businesses to attend school performances, exhibits and lectures.
  5. Gain industry visibility by inviting a local company to sponsor a student, academic or career-focused competition.
  6. Develop a speakers’ bureau for your faculty and actively market these speakers for industry and chamber events.
  7. Look for opportunities for faculty and administrators to write bylined articles and/or op-ed pieces.

While such ideas are comparatively low cost, they do take time and effort to execute well.

It is easy to just hack away at the budget. But when you simply reduce spending, you also reduce your returns. In the long run, a more strategic approach that calls for reallocating part of the budget to new, creative initiatives will pay off in bigger dividends.

February 26, 2008 at 9:21 pm 4 comments


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