Tag Archives: Prius

Troubled Toyota

Photo credit: angusw on Flickr

I feel compelled to share some thoughts on Toyota’s brand troubles.

Jim Lentz, president of U.S. Toyota sales, acknowledges that the situation is embarrassing, “but it doesn’t mean we (have) lost our edge on quality.”

Maybe not. But here’s the problem. First we learned of the accelerator problem. And now we’re hearing about braking problems with the Lexus and Prius. If we just had the accelerator issue, consumers might be willing to give Toyota the benefit of the doubt. But with other problems coming to light, consumers may now question who Toyota really is.

Is Toyota the auto company who can be counted on to build reliable, high-performing vehicles? Or is Toyota a brand that’s no more trustworthy than any of the other big brands?

Toyota has always ranked exceptionally well in the perception of value category. The current crisis now threatens to undermine that precious asset.

What’s the lesson?

Well, for starters, you can never let up on guarding your reputation.

As I’ve said many times before, brand building is a marathon event (probably more like an ultra-marathon). It’s tough, takes a long, long time and there’s no shortcuts. You build your brand mile by mile by mile.

But if you let up for a moment, if you slip, if you fail to do what you need to do, if you let your customers down, brand value that’s taken decades to build can be destroyed in an instant.

Guarding your brand’s reputation must be an obsession. It’s a total commitment.

Through all of the media reports on Toyota’s troubles, one of the ideas put forth is that the Japanese auto manufacturer had gotten complacent and overly focused on growth.

In fact, you can go back as early as 2005 and 2006, Toyota was talking then about the need to fight complacency and re-focus on quality even as it pursued growth across the globe.

Wasn’t it the Japanese who taught us that the relentless pursuit of quality and continuous improvement is key to growth?

For Toyota, the worst may not be over. We’re hearing reports that Toyota knew about the accelerator problem for over two years. And according to a U.S. House of Representatives committee, the sudden acceleration problem has been linked to 19 deaths in the last decade.

I think this is the most troublesome part of this story… that Toyota may have hid from its own problems. All of the sudden, it’s not just reliability and quality issues, it’s a question of integrity.

My view: Toyota will need to work hard, very hard, to bounce back from this crisis. They need to earn back the trust they’ve lost, and they need to rebuild the perception of high value.

Part of the value of having a strong brand is the ability to weather a storm when things go against you. Toyota will benefit from the brand equity it’s built with consumers, especially Toyota loyalists. But rebuilding the brand equity lost won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take years.

For more on Toyota’s troubles, see Toyota’s Chief Steps Forward to Apologize.

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Toyota’s New Prius Harmony Animation – a Joy Ride (Brand Champ) or a Ho-Hum (Brand Chump)?

The reaction to Honda’s animation, featured in last week’s Brand Champ or Chump, was overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority felt Honda hit the sweet spot with an inspirational piece that connected to consumers’ demands for greater environmental accountability.

So, the verdict from last week: Brand Champ.

This week, I want to know how you feel about Toyota’s new animation, which seems a fitting follow up to last week’s spotlight on Honda.

I leaned toward Brand Champ for Honda, and I’m taking the same position this week for Toyota. This time, I’m leaning strongly toward Champ.

This spot is a 30 second commercial promoting the third-generation Prius. Set to a familiar happy-go-lucky and eco-friendly tune, we see a Prius moving through a clean and beautiful environment.

But this environment is… well… unusual. The landscape is made up entirely of people. That is, the sun, clouds, flowers and blades of grass are depicted as people.

The point: Toyota’s third-generation Prius strikes a balance between the needs of man and nature. You can get everything you want in a car – extra power, more space and fuel efficiency… and the best part is you also make a difference by driving a car with fewer smog-forming emissions. So, a simple message: We get more of what we want in a car, but less of what we don’t want.

For me, this piece was eye-stopping to the point that I really wanted to see it again. The animation has a unique feel to it. Like some of Toyota’s earlier Harmony spots, this one feels organic and artistic… though much more uplifting. The flow of the piece suggests progress and change—for the better. I immediately connected with the message.

Toyota has its hands full with Honda. The latter is launching the competitive Insight hybrid and seems poised to take share away from Toyota, which has seen Prius sales drop quite sharply. This piece, as part of a larger campaign, may just help Toyota defend some of its ground.

Overall, I think this piece is a winner. I felt like I was on a joy ride. Do you agree? Or was it ho-hum for you? Watch it for yourself (see below) and let me know what you think we have here:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.

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Honda’s Doer Film: Brand Champ or Chump?

This week in Brand Champ or Chump, I turn the spotlight to Honda’s Doer film, a two minute ten second animation highlighting the company’s environmental commitment.

This piece goes beyond what Honda’s doing and speaks to the company’s view that everyone can help reduce impact on the environment. Honda says good things come from “doers,” people who do “things to move us forward, to make stuff better.”

As part of this, Honda offers tips on how drivers can make simple, small changes to their behavior to make a difference to the world around them.

So, is this campaign a brand champ, chump or somewhere in between?

I don’t feel right going with champ or chump. To me, the piece wasn’t mind blowing or awe inspiring. I have to go with somewhere in between, leaning to champ.

I like the simplicity of the little red car and the use of toys in the animation (the artistic quality is fantastic).

But mostly, I like how Honda takes what can be a big and complicated message and makes it easy to grasp. Certainly this piece does a good job speaking to Honda’s green credentials and reinforces to consumers that the environment is one of the company’s brand pillars.

Honda’s reputation has largely been built upon quality and good fuel economy. Toyota, mostly because of its Prius, has nurtured, by far, the strongest image for environmental friendliness. However, thanks to work like the Doer, Honda is closing the gap.

Not awe inspiring, but very good. 

Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think? Is Honda’s Doer film:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.

Be sure to explain the reasoning behind your choice. And yes, you can cheat like me and say whether you’re leaning champ or chump.

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