Brands on Life Support

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Like medicine, marketing follows its own sort of Hippocratic oath. Rule #1 is: Do no harm. But it’s a rough and tumble world out there. Just like people, brands take hits, and when they do it’s frequently a marketer’s job to staunch the bleeding, bind the wound and recommend therapy. I’ve been musing on this topic recently as I’ve watched two of the world’s strongest brands, Toyota and Tiger Woods, tumble down their own rocky hills.

For the past thirty years or so, Toyota has enjoyed a reputation for building the world’s safest, most reliable, longest-lasting cars. Lately, that reputation has been heavily tarnishes due to some highly publicized quality control issues. Once almost unthinkable, a Toyota model now carries a Consumer Reports “Do Not Buy” rating.

Tiger Woods has suffered a similar fate, losing his squeaky-clean reputation thanks to an ever-unfolding and also highly publicized personal scandal. In both cases I’ve found myself wondering: how does a marketer even begin to heal this type of damage?

Toyota has run “mea culpa” TV spots, admitting to having taken their eye off the ball Q.C. wise. The spots couple shots of American factory workers and classic Toyota models, conveying the idea that they’ve been around for a long time and deserve a second chance.

The message behind Tiger Woods’ new Nike spot is less clear, featuring a solemn Tiger staring down the camera as audio of his deceased father rambles on about learning from one’s mistakes.

Personally, I’m not sure which spot works better, but neither seems totally satisfactory. On Toyota’s side, you get the “I’m sorry I hurt you baby” message whereas the Nike crew opted to hide behind some scarcely relevant canned audio, leaving things open to interpretation.

Call me a marketing nerd, but these are the kinds of questions I ask myself as I’m driving home at night. If a patient like this were to be wheeled into our brand emergency room, what instrument would I reach for first?


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