Social Media True Grit: How Story Can Save #Takata

Published: October 22, 2014 / No Comments

A whole lot is going wrong right now for the folks at the Takata airbag company in Japan, and my heart goes out to their PR team. While the crisis swirls around them crushing their brand reputation – and the company stock by 23%- their social team, if they have one, appears to be paralyzed, most likely by legal and compliance issues.

The hashtag #Takata is filled with negative news and retweets, especially of the story of a woman in Florida who was killed by shrapnel that was emitted by her Takata-made airbag. In the meantime the response on Twitter and elsewhere from the company has been near silence.

I’m going to assume that the Takata team is precluded from joining the conversation right now by legal constraints, so I won’t bash them on the slowness of their response, even though speed is absolutely critical in these situations. Instead, let’s look at how Takata might turn this around going forward once their hands are untied – using smart social media and storytelling. If Takata were our client today, here’s what I’d tell them.

1. Start with an apology

This one should be easy, because Japanese companies have a stellar history of heartfelt public apologies, at least once it is clear they are at fault. This time should be no exception. An excuse-free apology in personable, human language from the CEO on the company blog is job one.

2. Don’t pretend it’s all in the past

While it’s true that the production mistakes that caused this crisis date back over a decade, the consequences and the ensuing news stories are all very current. Takata has to treat this like a problem they have to deal with right now, not something they can just dismiss as a past mistake.

This means creating a specific marketing campaign that is laser-focused on rebuilding the brand trust that has been so negatively affected by this story. The campaign should include every trick in the book — video, images, text, blogs, etc. — and Takata should be prepared to spend some serious budget on getting their message out. Most importantly, every element in the campaign should deploy messaging specifically designed to rebuild confidence and communicate the company’s core mission – saving lives.

Think about it. Takata is an airbag company. Safety is what they DO. The key is to communicate that passion and remind everyone that their whole reason for being is life saving work.

3. Explain the facts, but do it with a story

When people die, no one cares about your data. So when you are ready to go public use powerful stories to evoke the data instead. For example, it’s clear that airbags save way more lives than this error has caused. A 2009 study by the NHTSA showed that over 20,000 lives had been saved by airbags in the United States alone, compared with the four that have been reported lost due to this crisis. That’s a lot of saved lives and every single one of them is an opportunity for Takata to tell the story of the overwhelming good their airbags do.

So go out and interview people who have been in car accidents. Speak to their families, children, parents, co-workers – and tell the story of what one saved life can do. Don’t ignore the tragedy, but balance the scales in the consumers’ mind with stories that are as powerful as the ones that are fueling this crisis right now.

The point is this: The beginning of this story is written, but with the right training, tools and mindset, Takata can still write the ending.

*Photo credit: