Tag Archives: Toyota

How to tell an ugly truth

Or why “pink marketing” strategies do not really work when the situation is actually gloomy…

Many do associate marketing strategies and branding with the skills of a sleek salesmen who could sell ice to the Eskimos. And unfortunately many marketing strategies are built on a similar approach, that of a sleek salesman.

Sleek marketing strategies are creating demand – not too long ago as we were just getting used with the idea of the cell phone as a must have and now cell phones won’t do any longer –we must have smartphones.

Sleek marketing strategies also specialize on “embellishing the truth” or creating a better brand image by enhancing the product’s feature. Which is ok  when the truth about the product is that it looks quite pretty without adding the marketing make-up  . Such is the case of Toyota marketing its newest   SUV models as green rather than just  gas efficient.  For such fancy SUVs they are quite efficient when it comes to their MPG, to be green they’d probably have to give up being SUVs altogether …

The problem arises when the marketing strategies try to pretty up a truth that is ugly. Such was the delay of Toyota recalls and the company’s attempts to push certain technical issues under the rug or make them look minor when they were quite bad…

You probably tell yourself that it is counterintuitive to shout out an ugly truth as a marketing strategy. If a product malfunctions, you may want to make the whole deal hush-hush until the problem is fixed. And you are right, just that between media and social media is hard to keep an issue affecting your customers hush-hush for too long.  So what shall you do?

Let’s take Johnson and Johnson 1982 recall – after seven people died of Cyanide poisoning after taking Tylenol capsules that where tampered with the company had two choices:

  • To try to understate the problem and advise caution until the source of contamination was discovered (the person (s) who poisoned the pill) while standing behind the safety of the product
  • To shout out: the truth is ugly –  we have a big problem, the product is not as safe as we thought and we’ve no idea how it was possible to tamper with it  – and recall all the products immediately.

They chose the second approach –  they decided to recall Tylenol products from store shelves across US, not just in Chicago and offer free replacements . Their statement and marketing approach : the truth is ugly , but we care so much about our customers that we are not afraid to admit it and fix it no matter what cost. The result : Johnson and Johnson recovered its lost quite fast as it emerged from the whole crisis as a hero.

Another good example is the successful social marketing approach for AIDS awareness lead by the CDC in 1986 and matched by similar campaigns in UK and continental Europe (Stop AIDS Campaign) . It started by acknowledging the truth – there is a virus and it is deadly.  The truth is ugly but let’s get our facts right. The campaign encouraged medical authorities to speak openly about the risks, transmission and consequences of AIDS and it also encouraged all the people, including teens to ask questions and get informed.  The campaign had its share of negative comments and a lot of unpleasant facts were to be acknowledged and accepted – you know the type we really do not want to deal with, like your 16 years old daughter sexual life. But it did stop the rumors…

Therefore, when marketing does not have a choice but to deal with an ugly truth there are many ways it can approach the issue and build its strategy. It can stress the facts again and again in order to fight rumors and give an important place to potential solutions and healing. It can stress the importance of people as human beings rather than mere consumers that are important only as long as there is a profit to be made.

The only way you don’t want to deal with the ugly truth is by hiding it under a considerable amount marketing face powder and try to make it seem prettier by applying some heavy advertising mascara.