This Yaris Toyota Faux Pas

By Sahana Jayaraman

My last post for 12 days was about a “good” campaign, so today’s post is about a “bad” campaign.

Toyota’s social media campaign was one campaign I’d recommend reading about that that we could all learn from. Without beating them up too much here are some very important PR lessons that can be drawn from unraveling their social media faux pas.

Consider an integrated communications approach: Every marketing department is organized differently. As a corporation, companies should develop an integrated approach to implementing a social media campaign. Ideally, they should have someone from each pillar of marketing as part of their planning committee – advertising, interactive and PR should all have a seat at the table to ensure a successful program. In Toyota’s case the advertising/marketing folks decided to use popular ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, for its social campaign. While one of the top creative shops out there, Saatchi and Saatchi operated in a silo causing them to neglect some basic rules of engagement in the social sphere.

Be authentic and avoid conflicts of interest:  Authenticity is crucial to all online marketing efforts and if you are not transparent about your actions or try to fabricate something online it will inevitably blow up in your face. As part of the program, Toyota used Facebook as a platform to introduce a video contest. Unfortunately, the contest failed to attract fans and therefore it never lifted off.  In an effort to get the ball rolling on a contest that was not working according to plans, Saatchi and Saatchi decided to send out an internal email to its employees asking them to enter the contest for a monetary prize.

State your rules and adhere to them: Before implementing any program or online contest, state your rules in a clear and public way, and be sure to share and follow them. What is the required criterion to participate? What are the parameters? How will the results be determined? Saatchi and Saatchi sent a note off to its production team asking for entries to kick-off the competition posing a conflict of interest. Also, the tactic ended up backfiring because the production team created entries that were far too sophisticated and professional looking causing the average user to feel intimated.

Test and be willing to reevaluate: Nothing is certain in the social sphere and if you are not able to obtain the results you had hoped for immediately, as with any form of marketing, you need to go back to the brainstorm room to rethink your tactics and timeline. Knowing their plan wasn’t working Saatchi and Saatchi always had an opportunity to step back and look carefully at their strategy and its tactics to help increase participation. Toyota has a large fan base and while a video program might have sounded great initially, perhaps that was not the only way to leverage their brand activists.

Keep PR engaged and updated:  As you read through the article linked above it is apparent that Toyota should have engaged its PR team early on. The finalist of the contest uploaded this rather controversial video.

Not only would PR’s counsel have helped mitigate some of the issues central to the disaster throughout the program, but it would have helped the team defuse the situation more effectively after the fact had they been closely involved from the get-go.

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