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Toyota Recovers from PR Stumbles with Hot Pink Re-Branding

2013 Toyota CrownWe’d be hard-pressed to think of a bigger PR disaster for an automotive brand than the largest car recall in history followed by a massive tsunami wreaking untold damage on international supply chains. Heck, we didn’t even mention this valuable lesson about the dangers of automated spam messaging or this misguided effort to raise brand awareness among toddlers.

And yet, 2012 sales numbers tell us that Toyota has already recovered from a wide-reaching scandal that started in 2009 with reports of “technical difficulties” in its vehicles and ended with the recall of more than seven million individual automobiles. In fact, the Japanese company ended the year by reclaiming its place as the world’s most successful car maker.

Toyota obviously wanted to get people talking in 2013, so it came out swinging with a re-branding initiative fronted by a hot pink “executive” sedan. Japanese CEOs and their teenage daughters now have one more thing in common…a favorite color! Did someone invite Hello Kitty reps to participate in creative strategy meetings?

We’re not quite sure what to make of this new, bold model, which inspired “a media firestorm” in Japan. In fact, we don’t think too highly of the brand’s new “Let’s Go Places” slogan either. Toyota hired six agencies to come up with that whopper, so each individual word cost…way too much money. To outsiders like us, it looks like the company wants to confuse the hell out of the public by following a “try everything and see what sticks” PR philosophy.

And yet, and yet…Toyota sold more cars in 2012 than ever before, beating market expectations despite shelling out a billion bucks to resolve a class action suit over those annoying malfunctions that caused its cars to “accelerate without warning”. Despite all these examples of bad corporate behavior, classic models like the Camry and new ones like the hybrid Prius remain incredibly popular in the United States.

On that note, one of Toyota’s 2013 goals is further endearing itself to the American public. The newest version of the Avalon sedan was designed, engineered and scheduled to be built entirely within the continental US. (While this move may seem like a PR stunt, it’s mostly an attempt to make up for inflated production costs in Japan.)

With so many awful headlines, you’d think that 2012 would have been a disaster for Toyota; the company still faces personal injury and wrongful death suits stemming from the acceleration issue in addition to an unfair business practices case brought by 28 American attorneys general. But the numbers tell another story. The only conclusion we can draw from the company’s 2012 comeback: If a brand truly dominates its field, then all the bad press in the world can only do so much damage.

Do we agree?

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