The deserved and undeserved demise of two very different brands

February 2010

The fate of two brands has been much in our news this month: Toyota and Tiger Woods. The media has gone after both with its usual vigour and general lack of balance (certainly for Toyota), but the demise of one seems rather more deserved than the other. I’ll start with the one which seems less deserved…

The old adage ‘the bigger you are the harder you fall’ seems entirely appropriate for Toyota. The sheer size of the numbers the media band about on how many cars this previously revered Japanese car brand has to recall, clearly are only that high because they’ve sold that many in the first place. And why have they sold so many? Because they’re good cars.

And of course, because we all associate the brand with producing ‘good cars’ the very concept of them having to be recalled for anything remotely faulty seems an outrage. Compare this scenario with, hypothetically, the now defunct Rover brand and any recalls it had to make: the world would have hardly blinked – 1.) because not that many of us owned a Rover, and 2.) both those that did and those that didn’t own one would hardly have been shocked about the concept of a faulty part or indeed the part falling off the car entirely.

The cost to Toyota will clearly be staggering and on a number of obvious levels. Firstly to put right the apparent faults to the breaking and other systems, then to lost new car sales, reduced values of used cars (and less sales of them), plus of course the cost of damage to the brand. How do you measure this? Well ‘brand valuation’ can, and no doubt will, be carried out and this will have a further bearing on the financial value of the car giant. But actually what it simply translates to is Toyota selling less cars to you and me for many years to come.

This of course is great news to Toyota’s competitors, who must be rubbing their hands with glee. Will Ford sell more Fiesta and Focus models this month and next (and the ones after that) as a result of Toyota’s misfortune? Too right they will.

Which is all a bit unfair when you think about it, because Toyota are clearly working very hard to put right their wrongs, and being pretty big and honest about the whole affair. So if you have a Toyota with a potential fault they’re going to put it right for you, and if you buy a new Toyota now it will be better than ever. But will that all wash with the Jones’ next door? No, probably not: The Jones’ don’t buy a car just because it’s a good car; they buy a car because of the brand and what it says about them. And right now and for a long time to come, the worry for the Jones’ will be that you and I might just question their judgment if a new Toyota sits on their drive – however good the car, in reality, actually is.

So all-in-all Toyota has my sympathy, but not so Mr. Woods. No, I think he deserves everything he gets thrown at him, and indeed taken away from him – e.g. multi million dollar sponsorship deals.

Is that a bit harsh and me being a bit moralistic? Well dealing with the latter first, I do have a serious issue with his infidelity and, being honest, this is somewhat amplified on a rather personal level: My first wife turned out to be something of a serial adulterer (not a term I use lightly) so I very much relate to the hurt Mrs. Woods must be feeling. But even putting that aside, I think his previous arrogance and lack of any obvious warmth or appealing personality (when was the last time you saw him open up to the media after winning a tournament or sharing a joke with one of his fans – no; much more likely throwing his putter to the green in a tantrum) means he was very undeserving to reach the heights he did. A good role model to young people – even putting aside the moral implications of the adultery – and the very same group many of the sponsors want to influence with their brands? I don’t think so.

Of course I won’t be questioning his ability as a golfer – only an insane person would do that. I don’t play golf, but if you tell me he’s the best golfer the world has ever seen, I believe you.

The other specific thing which put the nail in the coffin of the Tiger Woods brand for me, was the ‘almost unwatchable for its cringe-worthy nature’ display we recently saw on TV from the man, when he faced a very selected group from the media and spelt out his apology to the world. Was he truly sorry? Who really knows other than him, but it didn’t work for me and clearly didn’t work for the retreating sponsors.

That all said, I guess if I was in his shoes life would still be fairly rosy with more money in my bank account than the federal reserve. Which of course just goes to show that there is no justice in this world – as anyone on the Toyota board will be quick to tell you.

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