According to an article from the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/14/AR2010051405390.html?hpid=topnews, Toyota recently conducted opinion polls designed to test messages that would discredit researchers who criticized the company’s actions following the sticky accelerator problems of recent months. At the heart of the story, are the actions of a polling firm (and its associated PR agency) that were designed to debunk the credibility of experts who testified before Congress about Toyota’s failure to respond adequately to this safety issue. And there you have what seems to be a straightforward story: influencing public opinion using research practices designed to directly attack “unfair or false assertions.” However, the story seems even more misleading, or confusing the more you read: the individuals involved appear to already be biased against the automaker! One is an auto industry safety consultant who authors a blog critical of Toyota. The other man is an auto technology professor in Illinois who conducted a study that supposedly revealed Toyota engine design flaws. (Toyota officials claim the same test would generate the same results for all automobiles.)  Oh, and by the way, the safety consultant works with victims’ attorneys. Is the headline of this story misleading? The idea of intimidating witnesses is wrong and likely illegal, but what of the credibility of the witnesses themselves? If your business was threatened by nasty bloggers (allied with lawyers intent on destroying your company or suing you for millions) or a “test” conducted by a vocal critic, wouldn’t you deem it fair to present the facts and tell your side of the story? It goes on every single day in American politics with candidates and elected officials fighting each other through research, opinion polls, pseudo-science, etc. Case in point: When was the last time you had a rational conversation with someone about the Theory of Global Warming (now called “Climate Change” by proponents) without getting into a heated discussion–pun intended–with someone who has plenty of evidence and science that appears to be politically motivated? Ugh.

Apparently more details of this particular Toyota poll will be made public next week. Then we’ll likely hear more about how egregious the actions were by Toyota…but perhaps what will be lost in the message is whether or not the critics themselves are legitimate. Ask yourself this, do they have a personal investment or professional credibility at stake? What is their motivation? What do they have to lose or gain? Of course Al Gore will promote his environmental world view. He stands to make a lot of money by promoting hysteria. Perhaps this post didn’t go where you thought it would, but let me leave you with one more thought: follow the money trail and it will always reveal much more. Your thoughts?

17 thoughts on “Smear Campaign By Toyota PR or By Victims’ Lawyers?

  1. This is a case where a large corporation is defending their name, reputation, and market share, and many people think that is the wrong thing to do. If there is dis-information that is turned detrimental to your company, you need to defend yourself. Defend yourself with the truth, I repeat, defend yourself with the truth and you will succeed. If you have a family and a neighbor wrongfully accuses “Johnny” of throwing a water balloon at spot the cat, when in fact he didn’t as he is allergic to balloon mylar, then the parent will defend his name and reputation. Toyota needs to correct this PR problem, but they need to do it in a transparent and forward thing way.

    1. I agree with Steve. Toyota needs to stand up for themselves. Reputation is a company’s single most important long-term asset. When an individual lies and claims to be able to prove a company’s product is dangerous, and does so in a very public manner, I believe the company should do all it can to discredit the individual. It is very important that Toyota responds quickly, but at the same time they need to be sure that what they are going to communicate is a good solid message.

      1. Toyota for years had a reputation that has been of the highest quality, companies for years have looked at Toyota as a company to look up to and model their own companies after, as far as efficiency goes. Toyota’s reputation is the most valuable thing they have, if they had a bad reputation then they would not be where they are today. You better believe that they are going to stand up for them selves in order to protect their reputation and I think they should. Nobody should step aside when being falsely accused, “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” as Bob Marley would claim.

    2. I agree as well. I think that transparency is definitely key for Toyota because like any company they are defending themselves and someone is writing that “Toyota had attack plan against congressional testimony, documents show” which in turn makes Toyota look like the bad guy to anyone reading this. The reality is that any and all companies should stand up for their company but they also should be the first to tell the publics whats going on so it’s not seen as an “attack plan” , because some people can’t tell , or don’t even put effort into finding out, if bloggers/writers are credible and will just go with it.

    3. I have to agree with most of the people on this post that Toyota needs to take action for their vehicles. As we learned in the Tylenol case taking action and accepting mistakes is key to brand loyalty. Like any relationship being honest and open builds trust with one another. Vehicles are 2 to 5 thousand pound bullets flying around on the road, so the safety is crucial. Toyota must must must take responsibility and action to better their product at there own expense.

  2. I’m not surprised that these “critics” are attacking Toyota seeing that every highly-publicized gaffe has been on the chopping block. Unless they don’t present the facts to back up their allegations, who are we to say that these bloggers are a reliable source? Hiding behind their words, I think bloggers say what they say because they can and they usually get away with their accusations no matter how outrageous it may be. The situation Toyota is in sort of reminds me of the Wal-Mart study case and I just think they need to be as vocal about defending the company as the critics who are smearing them.

    1. I agree with that: “Hiding behind their words, I think bloggers say what they say because they can and they usually get away with their accusations no matter how outrageous it may be.”

      I’d like to see how some of those critics and researchers attacking Toyota like that fare on the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. Without hard facts, there’s no real meat in the allegations against Toyota, especially when those allegations come from very open anti-Toyota mouths. How about getting some facts from unbiased researchers for a change?

  3. Toyota has the right to do make that lying individual look dumb because yes they do have problems but lying about a situation that was very serious didn’t help Toyota look any better. Toyota has a good reputation still despite all the issues they have been facing. As long as they stay honest and doing what so ever to keep customers coming back and happy then this will all blow over.

      1. I agree that Toyota needs to stay honest and straight forward. I cant speak for all Toyota owners, however the recent events are not going to change my buying decisions. When it is time for a new car I will probably buy another Toyota.

  4. I can agree that Toyota does have a right to defend themselves, but the last thing they want to be get caught doing is lying. When that happens the company pits themselves in a deeper corner to try and get out of. One of the most important things is to have established some trust so that your customers know when a major problem like this occurs they can depend on the big corporation to fix it in the most efficient manner possible. So many of their cars are out on the road and the last thing they as a corporation want to worry about is having to save lives when their products start to go bad for one reason or another.

  5. I can agree that Toyota hesitated to release information about the sticky accelerators. At the same time I think that this information was head back because of cultural differences of the company. Being a Japanese company, and having management that has different cultural norms could have caused some differences in how and when information was to be released. In the end every auto maker has had some sort of quality issue. Toyota has had their own, but overall the company produces a very reliable and safe product. Many other companies are out to capitalize on Toyotas turn of events, in hopes of gaining back some market share that Toyota has taken in the past few years.

  6. Toyota is currently facing the most devastating problem in its history, if not in the history of car manufacturing, but I feel that Toyota took a great first step to solve the issue by sending letters to all of the owners of the recall list. The company had to define its target “U.S citizens” by segmenting them into different publics, in order to send the proposed message and this was the most critical step.

  7. Like many people have already said, it is crucial that Toyota gets on top of these accelerator issues and stays in open communication with the media, communities and owners of their products. If they don’t, they risk tarnishing their historically valuable reputation as safe, reliable and long lasting. The second they fall out of touch with any of these key publics, they risk being pushed out of the car industry altogether. In regards to the source credibility of their critics, I feel that everyone serves some kind of special interest in one way or another and it is important to keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to trust what is being said.

  8. I have never bought a Toyota but i know that they are good cars. For the most part things like this dont happen. I would probably still buy a Toy Yoda

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