Toyota Joins Apology Ad Parade With 'Commitment'
In hopes of salvaging his company's long-held reputation for quality, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda apologized at a hastily scheduled news conference Friday and again Tuesday in a Washington Post op-ed. "Great companies learn from their mistakes," wrote the grandson of the auto giant's founder (who was recently spotted in an Audi. At least he didn't have to worry about the Green Police).
Echoing Toyoda's message is the new ad titled "Commitment" that is all over TV. In it, Toyota admits it "hasn't been living up to the standards that you expect from us" and promises to "restore your faith."
"The message is simple and delivered well: Toyota messed up big time, it knows it, and it's fully aware that the onus is on itself to win back customers' confidence," said Autoblog's Alex Nunez. But he also wondered "if Toyota had spent a fraction of its PR resources on getting out in front of these recall problems months ago" instead of doing damage control now, if it would be in the same mess.
Velvet Gazebo blogger Madichan thought the commercial gave consumers the answers they want by explaining simply how the company will fix the problems and "reminding people why they bought Toyotas in the first place."
A post from blogger kirbygarlitos on Top Speed described the nostalgia-tinged spot as "cheesy" and a "tear-jerker" while applauding the carmaker for owning up to its mistakes.
"Whether or not the consumer outrage over this global recall of Toyota vehicles softens up is an entirely different matter," he wrote.
Toyota is just the latest in a long line of companies and other organizations that have felt driven to apologize in ads.
A month ago, Domino's kicked off a campaign to tout its new pizza recipe with commercials that admitted its old sauce tasted "like ketchup" and the crust was "like cardboard." Also in January, the Chicago Bears took out full-page ads apologizing to fans for the NFL team's miserable season.
General Motors kicked its apology machine into high gear at the end of 2008 -- as it sought billions in bailout money from Congress -- acknowledging it had "violated your trust" by building too many gas guzzlers and letting quality "fall below industry standards."
JetBlue's operations suffered a meltdown after the 2007 Valentine's Day ice storm. The airline ran apology ads in several East Coast newspapers and announced a customer bill of rights.
In 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation bought advertisements to let people in the Hampton Roads area know how sorry it was that some local highway projects were going so badly. The ads cost taxpayers $163,000. "Frankly, the only thing more annoying than the massive ineptitude on the Interstate is that an apology for it costs us money," Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty grumbled.
The risk of running apology ads is that consumers will remember the attention-getting part about how badly a company blundered but might forget the promise to improve that always follows such an admission. So Toyota will have to wait and see how its new commercial's message is received.
Kellogg mastered the art of "I'm sorry' advertising more than a century ago. Its revolutionary breakfast cereal -- Corn Flakes -- was so popular when it hit the market in 1906 that stores kept running out. The company ran "apology ads" in national magazines asking customers to "stop buying and give your neighbor a chance," according to The Detroit News.
The result: Demand for Corn Flakes went even higher.