Sunday, February 14, 2010

Toyota Postpones a "Better Tomorrow"

It’s no secret that Toyota is dealing with a major company issue as they respond to unprecedented criticism for their accelerator pedal, hybrid braking and floor mat recalls. One unexpected fallout from the recalls is the end or momentary suspension of Toyota’s brand campaign “Beyond Cars.”

The Beyond Cars website was taken down last week as the company responds to all things recall. When asked why the Beyond Cars was no longer available, I was told it was done “in an effort to make sure the recall info is present, we are currently driving all traffic to the recall site,” according to a representative from the @Toyota Twitter account.

What's interesting is the site's URL: doesn't redirect to the Toyota Recall site; instead, it brings people to Toyota's Corporate Values page; though, there is a link for the Recall Update on the Values page.

According to Toyota’s press release, the Beyond Cars website invited “visitors to share their ideas for working together to create a better tomorrow.” Visitors could freely input their own ideas, but all entries were moderated and approved before posting.

One wonders if the concept lost internal support with the recall fiasco causing so much negative press for the company. With site moderation Toyota was able to control what would be published to the site, but would site coverage by blogs and other social media conversation mock the concept of talking about a better tomorrow, one that might include Toyotas that were not accelerating beyond the driver’s control?

With any user-generated site, the big question for clients is how thick is your skin when it comes to hearing what your customers, advocates or anyone stopping by has to say. Apparently for Toyota their skin is thin, very, very thin. With site moderation, they controlled what was posted. Even so, once the recall came the brand decided to take down the site entirely probably to avoid any possible negative connotation with the idea of a better tomorrow or negative reaction to Toyota moderating comments.

As an outsider, this shows there really isn’t much of an appetite for user-generated commentary at Toyota. Recalls are definitely a difficult time for any company. Would it be any different with other automotive companies going through this kind of public scrutiny? I’m not so sure it would be any different.

Beyond Cars may return after the recall dust has settled. When asked if it would return the Toyota representative told me “we're going to re-evaluate our plans for the site at a later date.” In the meantime, Toyota is working on its own “better tomorrow.” The world will have to wait.

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