Can Japanese Auto Brands Use PR to Stand Out After Recall?

Japanese auto brands have walked a tenuous PR line for decades now. They enjoy a reputation for being reliable, durable and aesthetically pleasing, but the brands behind them also run the risk of blurring into a single, amorphous marketing entity.

Because the public groups Japanese cars and most other Japanese products under the same national umbrella, these brands must work extra hard to differentiate themselves from each other. They even suffer through the same PR fails! For example, the latest auto recall scandal involves Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda and 3.4 million vehicles whose passenger side airbags could “deploy with too much force, sending shards of metal into the passenger area”. OK then!

This revelation presents a litany of PR challenges, the most notable being the public’s collective question, “If these brands all use the same airbags and airbag technology, what actually makes them different?”

A great brand can’t emerge from a collection of loose details and semantics — great brands are unique and bold. Japanese cars, on the other hand, all seem to share the same “it” factor: there’s nothing sexy, flashy or jaw-dropping about them, but they’re dependable enough to get you from point A to point B for years to come.

They’re like a dependable uncle; no one ever talks about the resale value of a Rolls Royce, but we all have a niece who drives a Japanese car she picked up from the local used car lot.

This massive recall leads us to speculate as to what, exactly, has changed about the way the Japanese make cars. It also compels us to consider what makes them different from one another. They look the same, drive the same, and have very similar promotional campaigns.

Can any of these brands use damage control campaigns to make themselves stand out, or will they continue to blur together like so many miso soups?

Publish date: April 12, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT