Saturday, July 3, 2010

When is a brand irreparably damaged?

Having just heard about new recalls by Toyota, the world’s biggest automotive brand, I can’t help thinking the marketing folks at Toyota – the company that sold thousands of vehicles in the U.S. with faulty accelerators – must be happy these days. To quote an old campaign tagline of theirs, “Oh What A Feeling!”

In the wake of a humiliating, brand-ruining nightmare, Toyota is buying huge amounts of TV time to shift perception and restore consumer confidence. The company says it’s spending a million dollars an hour on safety engineering. Very strategically developed graphics – like the word “SAFE” in big letters adjacent to the Toyota logo attempt to make the corrective association.

Getting back to the marketing types at Toyota, why should they be happy? Because no matter how badly Toyota has screwed up, it’s nothing compared to Uber screw-up BP. When a new villain comes along, the public forgets about the old one. Because the consumer tends to have a short memory, the old villain is no longer the villain; he’s yesterday’s news.

The new villain, BP, essentially did the same thing Toyota did with its faulty accelerator problem. In the early stages, they minimized the problem, avoided cooperating with federal investigators and hoped it would fix itself somehow.

BP is going to wind up spending about $30 billion to pay for its screw-up. But the question remains. Is the BP brand so irreparably damaged that British Petroleum will soon spin off its U.S. operations into a newly-named division?

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