Toyota and *that* social media disaster

by Lee Hopkins on December 16, 2009 · 4 comments

in marketing,pr,strategy


Tim Burrowes from ‘always great for a read’ ad/pr blog Mumbrella has a great take on the social media disaster that is the Toyota Yaris fiasco.

As he says,

“Going back to the cause of this, a big part of the issue is a cultural one. This could have happened to many ad agencies other than Saatchis. Culturally, very few are genuinely active and involved in social media. There are also few ad agencies who really understand PR. It’s hard to understand how social media really works unless you do it. There are only a handful of ad agency people who also have a genuine social media profile.

If they want a piece of the social media action that will have to change. They will need to start learning about it for themselves rather than using their clients as guinea pigs, or they will need to find partners who do.

In the end, it wasn’t social media that created this disaster for the brand – it was the lack of social media savvy.”

And as one of the commenters on Tim’s post, Gezza, remarked,

“For the client it is simply staggering that a senior marketer working for one of the world’s biggest brands could imagine for a moment this piece as being remotely acceptable.

P45’s all round I think.”

Indeed. Banana skins all round. And it’s not as though Saatchi were original; this style of ad was around about a decade ago.

The ‘if only we were truthful’ ads that I’m thinking of were for (from vague memory) a financial/ banking network and included a young man at a job interview telling openly about how he faked his Masters degree on his resume, and the hiring manager saying, “that’s okay, I did too.”

Another from the same company had the same young man turning up at a young woman’s house to take her out on a date, but instead of being polite, telling her some of the ‘real’ thoughts going on in his head and her sharing her intimate thoughts about him with the same ribald humour (or ‘humor’).

Hopefully someone from the US will remember these ads from about 10 years ago and enlighten me/us… Alas, I no longer have the ads myself (I downloaded them but lost them when my hard drives failed a few months ago), but I’ll have a scour of YouTube and see if I can find them. But trust me, the idea of ‘telling it like it really is’ is NOT ‘cutting edge funny’. Maaan.

Here’s the video in question:

Companies that I speak to often ask me why I am so adamant that PR are closely, nay, intimately involved with any social media activity. It is precisely because of the risk of disasters like this. I have refused to work with some potential clients because they saw no point in getting a PR agency on-board and refused to listen to my heartfelt plea. It’s akin to letting the 15 year old teenager of the MD design and build the company website. PR and Social Media are a hand-in-hand fit precisely because good PR agencies and people know that business and reputations are built and lost on how companies manage the relationships with their publics.

I even had an online stoush with some twenty-somethings over this very issue late last week. They were convinced that Social Media should be run by the Marketing people, and that PR should be a subset of Marketing. To a point I can see where they are coming from and slightly agree with them. But PR is a stand-alone discipline that should – but often doesn’t – stand up for itself and trumpet its own achievements.

But hey, I’m old… what would I know?

Good PR is not about having pretty women make old businessmen feel ‘powerful and strangely alluring’; good PR is about positioning a business so that the business derives the best benefit from ALL of its various publics – the shareholders, the suppliers, the employees, the general public, and so on. That is why PR is a degree-level course, with post-graduate options for those really serious about the industry.

And it’s why – even though I am not a PR person myself, nor schooled in PR practices – I am a fervent believer that Social Media is best left in the hands of those who best understand it. Which is one of a handful of true ‘experts’ in this country, and is best delivered when that ‘expert’ is partnered with highly-skilled and social-media nuanced PR practitioners.

fwiw, ymmv*


fwiw = ‘for what it’s worth’
ymmv = ‘your mileage may vary’ (i.e. the journey you have been on through life may give you a different and equally valid perspective to mine)

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