Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not a “December to Remember” for Toyota (Jarvis Cromwell)

We admire many things about Toyota here in the Reputation Garage. The current Lexus “December to Remember” advertising campaign is not among them.

One spot – watch it below – is trying to be clever.  But it’s so far off the mark for the tenor of the times that it comes off as tasteless and insensitive.  It should be pulled.

In it a woman, pictured as her childhood self, gleefully remembers the Christmas where she got a real pony, and how jealous the little girl next door was. Savoring this moment of childhood triumph, she goes on to say that nothing could be more…perfect (cut to the woman now grown admiring her new Lexus complete with bow in driveway.


The December to Remember campaign is its ninth year and Lexus noted in 2007 that it “is as anticipated as the traditional Clydesdales or polar bear campaigns.”

That was then.  Here are a few comments we found on Twitter and other communities across the net in about 60 seconds: 

“This commercial has gotten me truly angry…

"Saw loathsome Lexus 'December to Remember' spot of the season. What does it take to kill them?”

“Re: Lexus 'December to Remember' spot. How to kill them? Garlic-encrusted stakes have failed. Maybe this economy will do it.”

“Toyota ought to be chastised for these commercials.”

 “I would love to give a new Christmas owner of  a "December to Remember" car a shot to the nose.”

Trendwatcher Faith Popcorn sees a movement of anti-over-consumerism taking hold among consumers. "It's a convenient time for this. We can't afford it, so we might as well hate it.”

Indeed, we found no positive comments about Toyota’s campaign in our brief web search.  Maybe there is something good to be said about this spot.  We just couldn't find it.

Our advise for Toyota whose sales fell more than 25% last month: Take heed of Paul Allen’s recent advise in his post on the performance economy HERE.  This is not an environment for mistakes. Now more than ever you must make the consumer feel smart, protected, safe, heard, and connected.  Your customers may buy from you.  Do they feel good about it?  

And recall Paul’s worst-case scenario… what if your customers just don’t like you?  We can’t imagine that any incremental sales from this commercial could possibly be worth it in the long run.  You can do better than this, Toyota.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trust and the Performance Economy Part 2 (Paul Allen)

You Must Deeply Relate to Your Markets in Today’s Performance Economy, or You're Operating Blind.
No markets….no moolah. 
No trust… no markets.

Ed Note:  You can find Part 1 of the series HERE

Well-defined and trust-breeding markets matter more than ever today. Every marketer and organization must meet very specific requirements to succeed. But perhaps more importantly, every marketer and organization serves very specific people.

I remind myself regularly that markets are just lots of people who often want the same thing. And there is a lot of evidence that these people, who are your markets, are asking categorically for two specific things from you:

“Do me some good (Investment Protection)  
If I spend money with you, is it going to be a good investment, a good value?” Customers will not give you money in today’s increasingly hyper-transparent marketplace if they believe you're not delivering the best option in a sea of alternatives.  And as word-of-mouth research is discovering, your customers talk to peers about you online, offline, in every context imaginable.  The operative word for marketers here is “deliver."  We live in a “show me marketplace” (a term coined by the Trustmeisters here in the Reputation Garage.) In such a marketplace, you need to deal with the “do me some good” issue proactively and in advance.

“Don’t do me harm (Reputation Protection)
The vast majority of people, unfortunately for our economy, don’t believe big companies are ‘in it for them.”  The same has been true for government, the media, and others.  Sorry to say it, but even your own customers are unlikely to trust that you have good intentions and their self-interest at heart.  As a result, the question your customers are asking harder than ever is “if I associate with you, vote with my wallet, will it make me better off... or are there hidden downsides?  What if your products and services don’t last, prove unreliable, embarrass or harm me somehow?  Perhaps worse, what if I just don't like you?"

In an economy and purchase-decision environment stressed at the core, people gravitate towards like-minded organizations, who show good intentions and who help their positive self- image by validating and enhancing their point-of-view.  If you end up with a reputation for doing harm, watch out! This is not an environment for mistakes. Now more than ever, products and services can't win by merely delivering features and functions, they must make the consumer feel smart, protected, safe, heard, and connected.  Your customers may buy from you.  Do they feel good about it?  And what do they say about the experience to their friends, online or otherwise?

A useful way to think about the issues  above is to view investment protection and reputation protection as a parallel universe to value creation and trust creation, which I discussed in Part 1 of this series.  One is defense, the other offense.  In volatile markets, it is a strategic imperative to decide when one is on offense, and when one is on defense.  Downturns often mandate defensive strategies. But some luckier brands could find themselves in the right place at a bad time. 

Trust Creation versus Reputation Protection is in our view a fundamental brand strategy filter to help find the right market development strategies that have mass and direction. We believe that they need to be a key part of every organization's roadmap for identifying and executing on the ideas and offerings that you hope will be embraced by your markets (the people who will give you money).  It is a management-level exercise that will require taking a longer-term view of your brand, assembling and managing the right talent to build trust and focusing on direction and flawless execution.

It is only fair to note that the current Performance Economy (and like all before it) comes with its own special features - like a media-fueled depression-era mentality, the nationalization of the financial industry globally, and a lot of speculation as to exactly what economy we’re in now.

But you already know the answer to that. And can start thinking about:

1.     When should your strategy emphasize offense (value creation/trust creation) vs defense (investment protection/reputation protection)?

2.     Do you deliver both investment and trust protection to your customers?

3.     Are you fully leveraging the cultural, behavioral, societal, and philanthropic assets of your organization?

4.     Is there an institutional understanding that trust creation accelerates value creation?

Some food for thought if you’re thinking at all about this Performance Economy and how it might be navigated, or even conquered.

Paul S. Allen is the chairman of independent advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen (  He is also a founding “trustmeister” of the blog The Reputation Garage.

Copyright 2008 by The Reputation Garage and Allen & Gerritsen

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trust and the Performance Economy Part 1 (Paul Allen)

Back in the year 2000 – shortly before 9/11, way before the invasion of Iraq, and way-way before the collapse of the global credit system - a serious debate raged. The central question was a profound one.

“Which economy are we in?”
Good question. What’s everyone think?

The year 2000 was the backside of the bubble, still bloated and ready to burst. Money flowed, valuations were generous, VC-backed investments were the rage, technology was everything, more people had more than they had ever had before. Which, I guess, meant people had lots of free time to think about exactly which economy they were enjoying so much.

Pundits said we were in the midst of the Internet economy, the technology economy, the Silicon-Valley economy, the economy, the wired economy – and the big kahuna of them all – the new economy. My personal favorite is the new economy - because it made so little sense, as if the all too human drivers of economic sustainability took a permanent vacation. Plus, the moment you anoint a new economy, it starts becoming an old economy. And as we are painfully learning today, sometimes an old economy can become barely an economy at all.

“So, again, what economy is this ?
My answer is the same as it was in 2000. This is the Performance Economy.

In August of 2000, I penned an editorial column titled “The Performance Economy.” The following excerpt (forgive me for quoting myself) sums up my view:

“I am no Alan Greenspan, but markets have always rewarded performance. So why not describe the economy by what it is and always has been, the Performance Economy. No matter what descriptors we give it, the standards of economic measurement will always concern itself more with fundamental performance than today’s investment fad.”

So how do we think about this from today’s vantage point? 

Clearly there are aspects to performance that remain the firmament of value creation – revenue, earnings, efficiency, quality, liquidity, capitalization, etc. These will always be a vital part of any Performance Economy. But there are components of performance that I would characterize as the firmament of trust creation – behaviors and characteristics that mitigate risk and enhance staying power during challenging (pronounced “recessionary”) economies. In times like these, trust creation might be just what the economist (pronounced “doctor”) ordered.

I am also pretty convinced that trust creation has an exponentially positive effect on value creation.

As organizations wrestle with the challenges of a volatile economy by rationalizing relative performance, there are other important performance opportunities that have the potential to help offset the downward pulls of market movements. Revenue, earnings, efficiency, quality, liquidity, capitalization will always be a highly managed part of any Performance Economy (value creation). Where many organizations fall short is in thinking about the opportunities, short and long-term, that come by focusing on managing trust creation.

Here’s a list, not in any order, of a few institutional characteristics that contribute greatly to trust creation: characteristics that help offset the unavoidable swings in value creation dictated by a volatile environment:

1. Genuine commitment to benefitting stakeholders in tangible ways
2. Qualified, accessible and accountable leadership
3. Executive decision-making that carefully weighs impacts on stakeholder interests
4. Transparent financial practices
5. Transparent, direct communications
6. Clear commitment to business ethics
7. Societal contribution for non-commercial purposes
8. Environmentally responsible operations
9. Consistency of promise relative to delivery
10. Authentic, high-touch customer engagements

Individually, or in the aggregate, the list above would enhance the real and perceived trustworthiness of any enterprise. And would help stave off customer, employee and margin erosion in times of uncertainty.

The question my fellow trustmeisters and I ask an organization is this: Do you really manage trust creation? Creating trust is an active enterprise. Either you manage it like other performance measures (such as quality) or you leave yourself open to being an also-ran in this important dimension with your stakeholders.

And that may be just the ticket for getting through some of the darker aspects of the current “performance economy.”

Paul S. Allen is the chairman of independent advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen (  He is also a founding “trustmeister” of the blog The Reputation Garage.

Copyright 2008 by The Reputation Garage and Allen & Gerritsen

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On The Small Matter of Optics (Stephanie Fierman)

"Optics," in Wall Street parlance, means how something looks or appears on its face (without a lot of detail).

It's ironic that the phrase originates in the investment community - because said community seems particularly blind to the topic and its power.

I submit to you the following:

1. AIG used taxpayer money on sales retreats, replete with spa treatments. After getting pilloried in the press for such profligacy, the firm went ahead and used more taxpayer money on deferred comp for the top 5% of its executives. Earth to AIG, come in AIG...

2. The CEOs of GM, Chrysler and Ford flew to Washington DC in private jets this week to plead for a bailout. The Washington Post labeled this a case of "stone-cold tone-deafness."

3. James Cayne, the former CEO of Bear Stearns, was busy playing bridge in Tennessee without a cell phone or Blackberry while the financial community struggled to save (or sell) his firm.

On the flip side - with good optics - is The Nielsen Company who recently cancelled its 2009 client meeting, citing economic concerns. Does it matter why Nielsen may have actually cancelled the event? Not for a minute.

The importance of optics can be a hard lesson for executives to learn. As a marketing executive, I have counseled many on discontinuing or deferring activities not just because said actions may be truly inappropriate, but also because of how they will be interpreted by stakeholders. And in times of heavy oversight the result of such activities is exponentially devastating.

Remaining in tune with the effect of optics on an organization's reputation and perceived integrity is the job of every leader.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blogger forces NASA to Admit Global Warming Error and Other Trust Missteps (Jarvis Cromwell)

Today on the Trustwatch List:

It's reported that all three big auto CEOs took the fancy private jet to the government panel meeting where they planned to ask for a taxpayer bailout.

General Motors takes out a full page ad in The New York Times on why they deserve a bailout. It was all about them with nary a peep about their intentions for customers. Reputation myopia apparently remains epidemic in Detroit.

AARP investigates marketing practices of partners who were not truthful in how they sold health insurance plans. See HERE.

And finally there’s NASA. Last year NASA officials admitted that for the past seven years they had used the wrong temperature statistics to assess global warming trends. The mistake was spotted by a blogger, who forced NASA to declare the error.

Well, my friend Paul Walsh who is guru of all gurus on the weather’s impact on the global economy posted this morning that NASA has made another mistake along these lines – overestimating climate change numbers. See HERE.

And this may be shameless self-promotion, but the trustmeisters here at the Reputation Garage were happy to hear him note the following:

“The NASA PR engine should review the website (The Reputation Garage) of my friend, colleague and "trustmeister" Jarvis Cromwell. Reputation and trust capital is a key metric for a scientific agency like NASA -- making the case for an issue as critical as climate change (or going to the moon, mars, etc.) is only viable if the public can trust the information that they put out.”

Thanks Paul. Trust and reputation are not merely communications issues, they are performance issues and every one of these organizations needed more process in analyzing the downstream impacts of their actions on stakeholders.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Engaging Employees in an Economic Downturn (Jarvis Cromwell)

We've said before that "spin" is now part of the lexicon - and that changes how you communicate. In what is the lowest trust environment in a century, words are increasingly disbelieved.  Motivating workforces is not the sole job of an HR or PR department, but an exercise of transparency and engagement across the company.  And for a company with, say, 10,000 employees, there is no better (or worse) buzz than what gets served up by this crowd. The video tips from Vince Thompson below outline the idea pretty well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Changing Media "Trustscape" Part 3 (Jarvis Cromwell)

For several years now public trust in the mainstream media has been declining, a trend reflected across dozens of polls. One poll from earlier this year, HERE, found just 19.6% say they believe all or most news media reporting.  This was down from 27.4% in 2003.

Courtesy of my friend Paul Walsh, here's a great YouTube piece that unmasks television journalism's desire to show sensational images.  Right before this aired, Katie Couric was promoting a segment criticizing a staged inteview with soldiers in Iraq. A few moments later the show went to correspondent Michelle Kosinski with this:

NBC Reporter Exposed as She Fakes Extent of Flooding on Today Show

Copyright 2008 by The Reputation Garage.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Media Trustscape Part 2 (Jarvis Cromwell)

When a McCain aide leaked that Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent, the media went on a manhunt to figure out the source of the leak.

And the answer finally came back that it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser. MSNBC, Fox, the Los Angeles Times and blogs and media outlets aplenty covered the news.

One problem. Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist, as The New York Times noted today HERE. He is a complete hoax.

Score one for the NY Times and traditional trust-tactics of verifying sources and the facts. In this case dozens of publications and thousands of blogs were perfectly happy to pass along an entirely faked source to their readers.

Food for thought in the changing "media trustscape".

Copyright 2008 by the Reputation Garage

Friday, November 14, 2008

At Columbia: The Changing Media "Trustscape" (Jarvis Cromwell)

Back when I was CMO of Thomson Financial, a viral video about Google was making the rounds. From the vantage point of the year 2020, the piece spun a fictional history of Google.  Sometime around the year 2013 The New York Times was forced to convert to a newsletter “read mostly by the elderly.”

Now a few years later we’re back to the future.  On Tuesday night Columbia University’s J-School hosted its 4th Annual Changing Media Landscape discussion. The consensus?  Expect the disruptive changes taking place to accelerate, particularly given the economic environment.

Jacob Weisberg, chairman of Slate, cast the die on the relationship between traditional and new media this way:

 “New media and the traditional media are diverging rapidly after a period of relatively peaceful coexistence.  We are moving into a conflict model.”

Of course the traditional media model has been under siege for several years and Jeff Jarvis and others have warned about the consequences of failing to adapt. And media company share prices have reflected Wall Street’s concern.

But innovation and adaptation take time, which is why they are not management’s first reaction to disruptive change.  Cost cuts, however, are tried and true, albeit not actually a fix.  Another panelist at the discussion, Erica Smith, is a news designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  She also writes a blog called Paper Cuts that details the jobs cut at newspapers nationally. By Erica’s count, the industry has lost 13,000 jobs so far in 2008 with the coasts particularly hard hit.

Another concern on the lips of most every panelist was trust.  Indeed, it wasn’t lost on the panel that a changing media landscape creates what we've termed here in the Reputation Garage as a changing media “trustscape.”

Sewell Chan, blogger/bureau chief of the New York Times’ City Room blog, noted that trust models are different for new vs. old media. In a traditional media you seek audience confidence based on the judgment of editors and by maintaining a high standard of reporting.  Trust in such organizations is not high, however, falling in some cases to historic lows along with trust in government and big companies in general. 

Content aggregators, such as Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast or The Week, have a different trust model because their role is to sift through reams of news and data to find the golden nuggets. (Professional News Recommender is now a job title, by the way.)  Readers need to trust the sifting process, but the jury is out on how to create trust for this model. 

Finally, the new media trust model seeks to create an environment where you build on the trust that is already resident in social networks.  As we’ve noted in our work here, we are now living in the lowest trust era in a century.  Peer-to-peer trust, however, is one of the few bright spots.  Digg, and others are very democratic in how they surface content.

Chan believes that with the dawning of mass amateurism in news and reporting across millions of blogs, the lines between the professional and the layman have blurred. 

The learning for would-be “trustmeisters” is this: There is lots of good content being created in the new media world, but those core trust issues of verification, fairness and neutrality will never go away.  Old media trust practices need to be married with new media democracy.  While progress is being made, there remains plenty of opportunity for innovators to find new ways to accomplish this.  

Stay tuned.

Copyright 2008 by the Reputation Garage