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Tylenol vs. Toyota

Toyota’s January 2010 massive recall and sales stoppage of vehicles has been quickly compared to the recall by Johnson & Johnson of Tylenol in 1982.

Most of the similarities are in the enormity of the recall and the proactive nature of the effort. However, there are more differences in the nature of the problem and the current similarity than there are similarities.

Similar to J&J, Toyota is going beyond what it may legally be required to do in recalling vehicles. J&J went further than what was required by the FBI to pull products from the shelves. Toyota is getting a big splash from total sales and production stoppage.

Tylenol was a different product, a different situation and a different environment. The difference between Tylenol’s facts – and perhaps including SARS and 9/11 as crises – is that there was no “contributory negligence” on the part of the brand or J&J. While no product manufacturer ever wants to have a problem or defect, the fact is that TOYOTA did something that caused the problem. In the case of Tylenol, these were well made tablets that “someone else” tampered with. No one at J&J has ever been accused of doing anything wrong.

And of course, the media world is profoundly different from 1982. While J&J didn’t think so at the time, the company had a relatively easy time of controlling the story and the message. The media was print, radio, TV and advertising. Now, it’s the kitchen sink, with YouTube, chat rooms, Twitter and blogs the most difficult to control. J&J was hampered by not having a web site to post its information, Toyota is using its for releasing information. I’m personally a bit surprised at the relatively small size of the button on the home page.

One more item. During Tylenol, J&J Chairman Jim Burke was the face of the brand and the company. So far, no one from Toyota has emerged to give this terrible event a human dimension. In addition to the web site, I’m surprised that Toyota is not using its YouTube channel with even a brief statement. Now that the crisis has gone global, it would be appropriate to have a faces of the company and post in many languages to reach more customers.

How do you think Toyota is doing?

One Comment

Greg Barr

Clearly Toyota is not prepared for this type of development with its cars. It doesn’t seem like they have a playbook for disclosing information or possibly even for getting at the information to disclose. I’m basing this judgment on the news coverage I’ve seen which embues the story with an air of mystery because the basic journalistic questions – what exactly, where exactly, when will it be remedied and most of all why did it happen, appear not to be answered.
I own a 2001 Camry and a check of the Toyota site – the News Alert button wasn’t too hard to find — puts me in the clear. The latest FAQ seems to answer most of the journalistic questions so I don’t know if it is a case of the journalists not doing the legwork or it this was so recently posted that these answers weren’t part of this morning’s news coverage.
Looking at the News Alert page, there is an awful lot of material that I think would be daunting to most people. It raises some interesting issues about how to manage content rapidly in an Internet.

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