Whether you drive a Toyota Prius or have just been following the media waylay Toyota has received over the issue of the Prius’s faulty breaks, it’s been fascinating to see media and even D.C. politicos inform the extent of this crisis and Toyota’s response – lacking or not.
Academic approaches to crisis communications (read – great scholars like Coombs, Holladay, & Ulmer) often look at the extent to which media actually inform and manifest a crisis.
For Toyota and the case of the faulty breaks and sticky gas pedals, staunch media coverage and the whole “stop driving your Toyota’s” misstatement from transportation secretary LaHood, definitely seem to be manifesting a crisis that never actually happened.
I say the crisis “never actually happened” because, well, it’s not like millions of Prius drivers’ breaks all suddenly failed at once and a bunch of people perished. (For a more appropriate definition of a crisis, see Haiti).
Now – should faulty break and sticky gas pedal malfunctions have been addressed? Absolutely? Should Toyota have responded with recalls sooner? Probably. But the recalls are out – to the tune of 8.5 million cars and trucks, globally.
Toyota has produced (quite quickly, I might add) some television spots like this one, which practice crisis management 101: remind audience of long-established, trusted history; softly acknowledge faults; point out efforts to fix errors; talk about bright and promising future.
I actually think the messaging in this video is solid – straightforward – and affective. Granted, I don’t drive a Toyota. So for those that do, are Toyota’s actions sufficient in easing consumers’ fears?
Or do additional media reports about an inaccessible brand and closed company culture carry more weight and implications than a 15-second TV spot with reassuring messaging can fix?
Ironically, companies with closed cultures and their ability to survive crises is also an oft-studied topic when it comes to crisis communication.
And the basic premise of many theories resulting from these studies?
If you have a tight-lipped, inaccessible corporate culture and you or your product encounters risk or an actual crisis, media are going to attack you corporate practices right along with the risk/crisis.
Which is to say, media-generated crisis or not, it’s still a crisis.
And I believe it takes a lot more (read corporate culture overhaul) than a creative commercial spot to make the crisis subside.
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