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February 16 , 2010

Toyota goes digital to communicate recalls
Using display, search ads and social media

As Toyota tries to limit brand damage created by recent recalls of a number of its models, the automaker is using display and search ads and social media to communicate the situation to consumers. Competing manufacturers, however, are making the most of the opportunity to woo potential Toyota customers elsewhere.

Alongside the digital elements of its crisis management strategy, Toyota recently began running TV spots claiming it is doing everything in its power to rectify problems with its cars. However, Christopher Baccus, senior digital brand strategist at Wunderman, suggested that digital media lends itself better than traditional channels to this type of situation. "The advantage of online is that it's relatively easy to communicate more complex situations that can't be [relayed] through a 30-second TV spot," he said. Indeed, the TV spot itself encourages users to go online to find out more information.

In the search space, Toyota ads currently occupy the top ad spots on Google and Microsoft's Bing for queries relating to "Toyota recall," which drive traffic to a mini site featuring detailed information on the recalls, and which models are affected. However, a number of competing manufacturers, particularly U.S. brands, are bidding on the same terms. Ads for Mazda USA and Ford, for example, emphasize the reliability and safety of their models. Chevrolet, Buick, Honda, and Volkswagen are also bidding on similar keywords, as are legal firms seeking clients seeking reparations from Toyota.

According to recent data from Hitwise, U.S. searches for Toyota-related keywords increased substantially during January, with the term " toyota recall" accounting for over one percent of all automotive-related queries during the month, suggesting search is playing a prominent role in delivering that information to concerned consumers. That trend looks set to continue throughout February.

Toyota also has been running display ads across a range of automotive and news sites. Users browsing Toyota-related pages on Cars.com and Edmunds.com are presented with units reading, "There have been a lot of people wondering about the recall. Get the facts." Baccus claimed he had also seen ads across a range of news sites - including The Washington Post - which he suggested were probably bought through ad networks or exchanges.

Social media initiatives have played a prominent role in Toyota's attempts to show transparency. Via Digg, for example, users were invited to pose questions to the manufacturer's U.S. President Jim Lentz. Meanwhile the company has posted regular updates to its Facebook and Twitter accounts, linking back to the dedicated micro site. Video content also features prominently on that site, detailing how and why the fixes are being carried out. That content has also been pushed out to YouTube, a move that Baccus described as "one of the most effective mechanisms" he's seen the brand use thus far.

As updates from the company and subsequent media coverage trundle on, Toyota can be expected to continue its attempts to limit damage to its brand through digital efforts. Whether it helps the firm reestablish consumer confidence remains to be seen.

~ ClickZ

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