By on February 22, 2010

The social media blog Mashable has an interesting theory: Toyota’s recall woes might actually be good (gasp) good for the brand. To back up this astonishing claim, they offer two premises, based on online social media data:

The first is that the increased number of conversations about Toyota are building greater awareness for the brand even though many of the mentions may be negative. While this may seem unusual, the fact that people are talking about the brand a lot more and sometimes in a neutral light (not just negatively) is increasing its exposure. More people are talking about Toyota than any other brand these days. And they’re talking about the recalls, but also the fixes being provided by the dealerships too. And some of the consumers are probably coming to the defense of the brand too. Maybe there is some truth to the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity after all.

The second answer comes via Jeremy Anwyl, the CEO of Edmunds.com in an interview with CNN on February 5th. He explained that people have sensed an opportunity to pick up a bargain and are moving towards some of the Toyota models. Edmunds research showed that before the recall, 7.4% of the consumers in the market for compact cars were considering a Toyota Prius, and after the news broke, the number moved up to 8.7%. Edmunds’ research measures online purchase behavior against conversations on the social web.

What does this tell us? Firstly, that the SIM Score fluctuations and the related Edmunds user intent analysis have unearthed a counterintuitive trend with regard to Toyota; increased buyer interest even though there’s a lot of bad news about the brand. It also shows that there hasn’t been significant short-term damage to the Toyota brand on the social web, at least relative to its direct competitors. This of course is likely to change, as more news about Toyota’s troubles have broken since January, and more people are talking about it online today. I fully expect the Toyota SIM Score to start dropping again when the February numbers are computed. It is worth pointing out the SIM Score is a measure of a brand’s health on the social web and not always a leading indicator of sales, though it can be for certain product categories.

My take is that losing a halo of invincibility on the issues of quality and reliability is never good, although in Toyota’s case it was probably unavoidable. One point on which I have little doubt: Toyota’s fall from grace will probably help consumers make more informed car-buying decisions. Unfortunately for Toyota, that shouldn’t help them keep their sales numbers up. Ultimately, the available social media data doesn’t seem reliable enough to discard the conventional wisdom that most consumers buy on reputation… and with congressional hearings and federal investigations looming, there’s still reputational damage to be done. What say you?

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23 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Could The Toyota Recall Prove That There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?...”


  • avatar
    Ion

    Wasn’t the G8 well liked by social media?

    IMO, The Crosstour is the ultimate test of social media’s impact on car sales. If that things successful then social media has no place in car sale predictions, atleast for the time being.

  • avatar
    AdamYYZ

    Honestly, I hope its BAD publicity and they take a beating. Honda could use a good s***-kicking as well. Both of these brands have been producing boring and mediocre cars lately and should have to work hard to get customers back. It’s pretty sad when I spend more time and interest at the Hyundai booth at the Auto Show than these two combined. Wha-haapen?

    Toyota needs some better styling, better build quality and some freaking charisma for a change. Their cars aren’t that cheap, I think they are selling most of their cars to oblivious cattle who don’t care about cars or driving and just want a safe bet. I hope their core customers think twice next time and maybe we will get better cars.

    • 0 avatar
      AdamYYZ

      I cant seem to edit my post… It turned into a rant instead of answering the question. Basically I feel that their customers in general buy Toyota because its a safe car to own, and a safe car to drive. I think, considering the fierce competition out there, a lot of these people will think long and hard before continuing their loyalty. And I hope so.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I walked right passed the Honda display this year. The only time I spent at the Toyota stand was to find out if the Toyobaru was there. When I found out it wasn’t, I left. I spent plenty of time looking at various Hyundai models, most of which impressed.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Bad publicity has a nice bounce if when after owning up to past sins, you make amends while proactively move forward competently and confidently.

    If playing the part of a serial bumbler does not bespeak honesty, proactivity, competence or confidence; but maybe somebody recently watched “Office Space” and decided that playing against type will provide a better result.

    I suspect many of the sales attributed to deal-shoppers went to opportunists willing to take a chance. If, however, bad news keeps spilling out of Toyota, opportunistic customers, and incentives are not going to be enough to retain market share as customers who buy for reliability and safety shop elsewhere.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    Sounds like a couple of ‘new media’ shills are trying to boost their own brand.

    They found some counter-intuitive trends in their data — a ‘man bites dog’ story, if you will — and publicize it. If their prediction is wrong, no one will remember (and it had a bunch of caveats, anyway). If their prediction is right, they can sell their site as having real predictive power and relevance.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I don’t think that constantly getting reminders about Toyota’s problems would help Toyota at all. I think the Prius search info probably doesn’t mean too much. A better measuring stick would be the Prius sales numbers.

  • avatar
    Sutures

    If there is no such thing as bad publicity, this (from tonight’s ABC news) must be freaking awesome…

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/toyota-recall-electronic-design-flaw-linked-toyota-runaway-acceleration-problems/story?id=9909319

    tl;dr someone found a way to duplicate the unintended acceleration event by an electrical short. No fault codes, no idiot lights and the car can overpower the brakes.

    Cheap shot? Probably. But you know, I couldn’t stop it… the gas pedal was stuck.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No fault codes, no idiot lights and the car can overpower the brakes.

      That alone puts it into the “Pics or it didn’t happen” category. Any car with functioning brakes** can overcome the engine at WOT. Consumer Reports tested this. C&D tested it. I’ve personally tested it, as have others.

      I guess ABC wants to join CBS (Audi 5000) and NBC (GM’s pickup trucks) in risking their credibility for ratings.

      ** and yes, this even includes the Prius and HS250

    • 0 avatar
      Sutures

      @psarhjinian,

      on re-watch, I may have overstated the brakes. (the video wasn’t up yet when I posted the link) The reporter says that the brakes feel as if they weren’t working, the specialist corrects him.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Throw in a wide open throttle V-6 on a vehicle that is already doing 40 – 60 mph, add in the average driver who can’t figure out how to shift the transmission into neutral and you’ll see that the brakes take a very, very long time to stop the vehicle.

      Throw in a long downhill run and the above scenario get’s even scarier, if the driver doesn’t move the gear shift lever from D to N.

      Now as for the cause of the WOT condition, I would be curious as to what the Indiana tester did to throttle circuit. Speak up ABC, tell me the whole story.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    This could all possibly help Toyota, but only if it sets them off as the alternative to Government Motors. That would have to be an underground campaign, as they can’t openly engage in such a process. However, that campaign would undoubtedly be aided by Government Motors’ overreaching, which will occur loud and clumsy and well aboveground. So that portion of the campaign would be handled for Toyota, transparent of them and costless to them.

  • avatar
    baldheadeddork

    So they think an increase in shoppers looking for a bargain from Toyota because they’re in desperate trouble – is good for Toyota?

    Someone should tell them that, unlike dot.com’s, actual businesses don’t survive for long when they try to use volume to make up for losing money on every sale.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Anyone who believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity should have a chat with Tiger Woods. I think the “dog ate my black-box reader” excuse is going bite Toyota hard. Everybody screws up, but cover-ups are the gift that keeps on giving, as far as our media is concerned.

  • avatar
    segfault

    I’ve said this from the beginning–I’m holding out for a zero-down, $249 a month lease on a Camry Hybrid. Toyota is going to have to undercut their Japanese competition on price (and guarantee residual values, by way of subsidized leases) in order to keep selling vehicles.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    People still buy Fords after exploding Pintos, Rollover Explorers, and various models that spontaneously combust while parked in the garage.

    In fact, Ford has become the darling of the “I hate the bailouts” crowd.

    Ask this question again 18 months from now and everyone who is not a pistonhead will answer – “who?, what? I don’t want to talk about cars”.

  • avatar

    What everyone seem to miss is the government. Toyota may have cash to fend off some ambilance chasers and hemorrage to others, but when Feds kick your door down, you are screwed. I think most consumers understand that Toyota continues to make the most reliable, durable, and safe cars across all brands in America. It’s too obvious that numbers of claimed deaths are nothing near what Ford managed to collect with only one Explorer. But it means nothing when billions in fines and settlements are going to weigh the balance sheet down.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    In Sept 2000, as the Firestone debacle unfolded, Explorer sales rose. (source: http://articles.latimes.com/2000/oct/04/business/fi-30997 )

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      This is different than the Firestone debacle in that numerous Toyota/Lexus models are implicated.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yes, but it’s a lot easier to replace a set of tires than to diagnose a bug in a complex electronic system. And at the time that article was written, Ford had already recalled the bad tires, and even replaced Firestone tires that weren’t subject to the recall for their truly paranoid customers. Compared to Toyota’s “What, me worry?” approach.

      Ford used the bad publicity as an opportunity to prove that they stood behind their vehicles and cared about their customers. Toyota, not so much. And once your CEO is testifying before congress, that ship has sailed.

    • 0 avatar
      Runfromcheney

      Ford CEO Jacques Nasser had to testify in front of congress because of the Firestone Tire problem. In fact, his pathetic showing was a PR disaster for the company and it played a big part in the Ford family’s decision to can him.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Back to the “bad publicity is good” question originally posted.

    If Toyota handled this well, then it could have been good publicity. If they displayed transparency, customer support, and surprised everyone with a well thought out and considerate response – then it would have been a good thing in the long run. Buyers depend upon their dealers and vehicles more than they did when cars were simpler to maintain. As a result, an issue such as this one can be used to enhance Toyota’s other marketing strengths with a level of assurance satisfying both customers and future buyers.

    But they didn’t do that here. Consequentially, Toyota’s image is damaged. It is no longer the brain-dead default auto purchase and joins the ranks with GM as once-darlings that had it all. Honda, Hyundai and Ford will end up the winners this decade as a result.

    Toyotas have been losing their “cool” factor for several years. Their own internal studies showing that Toyota is the Oldsmobile of the 1970s with gray haired senior Boomers tooling around in them and giving the brand a smell of moth balls and marijuana, like a nursing home in the 21st Century.

    With this failure, the grandkids of the Boomers will look elsewhere to buy a car. After all, this is why Toyota launched Scion.


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