Crisis communications: using video to apologize

Ok, so I know this blog is supposed to be focused on political public relations, but I’m going to have to take a quick timeout and talk about Toyota. As a public relations student and future practitioner, it is necessary to discuss the biggest PR blunder happening at this very moment. I’m not going to go too in-depth into the entire Toyota fiasco, but rather talk about a video commercial I recently saw while watching the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But first a recap on Toyota’s current crisis. After the discovery of faulty accelerators in several models of Toyota cars, the company (well, to be fair, Toyota did not necessarily discover it) issued a massive recall. This recall was, however, not handled properly and violated several important rules of crisis management. Toyota was slow to admit fault and take responsibility; it did not really apologize and tell customers how it would make things right; and it didn’t offer a clear solution or promise to find one at the beginning. Toyota has received much negative criticism in recent weeks, which has led to a belated attempt at crisis communications outreach to restore its image. One of its efforts is in the form of this commercial:

Crisis communication outreach takes many forms: press releases, interviews and press conferences are common ways of handling these types of situations. Toyota’s creation of a video commercial to be played during high-profile television events, like the Olympics, is an interesting strategy. What about video as a communication method prompted Toyota to make this commercial with the hopes it would be a crucial factor in the restoration of its brand?

Video, better than any other medium, conveys emotion. Toyota leverages this in its video commercial as it tries to stir emotion by painting a human face on the company. The commercial focuses not on a statement or actions of top executives or the CEO but the many employees working to fix the mistakes made by Toyota. The primary images in the commercial are people – from dealers to workers to product engineers at all levels of the company working – around the clock the commercial adds – tirelessly to repair Toyotas and restore the public’s faith in the company. It talks of the 172,000 employees who are dedicated to “making things right,” and the company uses video as a frame to invite the viewer in to see the progress Toyota is making and to forge a bond between the customer or viewer and the individuals working for Toyota.

Thanks for the video commercial Toyota, but how will the public respond to this attempt at an apology?

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2 Responses to Crisis communications: using video to apologize

  1. Keith says:

    I know you have nothing else to do so I wonder about your thoughts from a PR perspective about the International Olympic Committee response to the death of the luge contestant.

    My read is that the IOC said, “There was absolutely nothing wrong with the luge course and here’s what we will do to fix it.”

    I understand the official report was that he came out of a corner too fast and didn’t make adequate corrections. His speed was the result of the design of the course but there was nothing wrong with the design (see above).

    • lynnhector says:

      That is a good question. The IOC has made a change to the course.The final curve of the course, the so-called Thunderbird curve, where Kumaritashvili was killed, now features a wooden retaining wall, and the ice has been shaved to make the chute more rectangular, keeping riders from sliding up the side. (see this article)
      They have also changed the starting point of the race, resulting in an average 5 MPH slower at the end and 30 MPH at the top of the race. Some are unhappy with the moved start place, but the FIL secretary genera said the start change was an attempt to deal with the “emotional aspect” of the tragedy.
      I think it is a smart PR move to make an adjustment. The IOC will come off as callous if it simply says “user error.”

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