Toyota: There They Go Again

When I was 17, I helped my mother buy her first post-divorce car.  We settled on the first Civic that Honda brought into the US.  It was a great little car, and I’ve been pretty loyal to Honda ever since.  These days, I’m glad about that because the big boys at Toyota are back with a new apologia ad (you can see it here).  The ad I discussed in my last post was bad.  This one is a doozey.

It starts by telling us that Toyota cares so much about safety that they’re spending “a million dollars an hour” to improve safety.  That’s somewhere between $2 billion and $9 billion a year.  I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to believe they’ve been spending this much money all along, in which case it they look incompetent, or they just started spending it, in which case it look foolish.  Neither option is very reassuring.

Next, we learn that Toyota’s “Star Safety System” is now standard on all Toyota models.  Comfort-wise, this is an air sandwich.  It’s neither emotionally compelling (when was the last time you walked into a car dealer saying to yourself, “I just gotta get me a Star Safety System to impress the girls?”), nor is it rationally reassuring.  They don’t bother to tell us what the Star Safety System is.  Turns out it’s a collection of five safety features that are available on lots of cars and have nothing to do with sudden acceleration.  And it’s a pretty good bet that the Prius had it all along.  So it has nothing whatsoever to do with Toyota’s actual problem.

And of course, they saved the best for last.  The ad builds up to this emotional conclusion:  “At Toyota, your safety will continue to be. . .”

You know how to finish that sentence, right?  “. . .our top priority.”

Well, guess again.  Toyota wants you to know that “. . . your safety will continue to be a top priority in any and all of our decisions.”  WHAT?!?  “A” top priority?  I’ve never owned a Toyota product (and I never will).  But if I did, I’d sure be wondering right now just what my safety was competing with.  Imagine flying on an airline who’s motto was, “Safety is somewhere in our Top 5.”

Toyota has been selling cars in the US for as long as I’ve been alive.  Literally.  We got started the same year.  That’s long enough to eliminate lack of cultural familiarity as an excuse for Toyota’s tin ear.  I’d like to be able to say that these are just ads, and that I should ignore them.  But I can’t get myself there.  Toyota’s messaging on this issue has been so bad for so long, in ads that clearly were approved by senior executives.  It’s hard to conclude anything other than that they reflect the company’s real views.

Late newsflash.  I’m writing this while watching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup (just went to overtime), which Toyota is sponsoring.  Their newest ad ends with this assurance:  Toyota understands that nothing matters to you as much as your safety.  Apparently, it still doesn’t matter that much to them.

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