Toyota’s Newest Television Ad

I caught Toyota’s new mea culpa television advertisement this morning. Evidently, it has been running on such high-rotation that people are starting to think it’s the video for the latest Beyonce song.

The advertisement is such a boilerplate corporate job that it almost looks like a Saturday Night Live parody. It starts out with black and white photos from the earliest Hollywood Toyota dealership. Quickly it moves to shots of good old red-blooded Americans building Toyotas in the factory.

Since video is nothing without audio, there’s the requisite soothing piano to calm the scared and frustrated nerves of the customer. Then the ace-in-the-hole: the smooth-voiced narrator pulls out the “we’ve let you down…we’ve let ourselves down”. All we’re missing here is the crying Native American chief for pure cheese-effect.

As an automotive journalist who witnessed his first television advertisement copy (for the local Diabetes Bike-A-Thon) aired while in fourth grade, I give the Toyota spot a solid C-minus. It lacks creativity, context, and looks and sounds like a big corporation that is sorry for getting caught.

Instead of the bogus mea culpa, Toyota would have been much better-off doing a quick explanation of its problems. Just off-hand (really– just stream of consciousness), I’d think about something also along the lines of “there are thousands of parts and hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code that go into making any modern car run. Every model from all makes has parts fail, resulting in technical service bulletins and even recalls. However, at Toyota we’re known and have staked our reputation on being better than the rest. Recently we’ve discovered that a couple of parts and a few software commands were not created to the standard we require, so we’ve engineered fixes and along with our factory-supported dealerships, we’re going to get them into every Toyota…quickly, safely and with no excuses.”

I would also add somewhere that “this is not the fault of the hard-working men and women on the production lines.” After all, the failures have been in the engineering of the parts and software, not how they were assembled.

At the end of the day, it’s a hard line to walk for a company. It needs to admit fault and ask forgiveness, but it also can’t scare people into thinking that this a more dangerous, more widespread problem than it really is. Of course, when a company shuts down its production lines, halts sales of many of its vehicles and has the nightly news programs talking about stuck throttles and no brakes, there’s really little way of making it sound any worse…

…unless your apology sounds like parody.

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