Toyota Injects Too Much Of Itself In "Meals Per Hour"
Hi, I'm Larry. I'm the jerkhead who's about to write a few hundred words about why I don't like a brand video whose benefactors will donate a free meal to a needy family for every viewing. My parents only acknowledge my existence under oath. It's nice to make your cyber-acquaintance.
The brand video in question is "Meals Per Hour," which recounts how Toyota helped a local food pantry get its act together by schooling eager grasshoppers in the ancient, mystical discipline of common sense. By showing how the patented Toyota Production System can be adapted to help do-gooders automate and accelerate the process of doing good, the clip attempts to paint Toyota as the world's most dynamically pragmatic automaker.
Which is already Toyota's rep in the minds of everyone except American-car loyalists and individuals hung up on the floor mat/acceleration PR fiasco of Aught-nine. Toyota should be commended for helping Sandy victims in a manner more involved than writing out a check; I'm just not sure I understand all the preening that accompanies it.
Is the point to add "are nice people" to the company's brand-virtue checklist? Because if most consumers were asked to choose between a great product/so-so company and a so-so product/great company, they're choosing the great product. They're choosing the Toyota, no matter what a charity-stamped clip discloses about the production process, the people that lead it or the Japanese notion of "kaizen" (apparently there is no word or phrase in the English language that conveys "continuous improvement," besides "continuous improvement"). In automaking as in speed dating, "are nice people" largely gets lost in the mix.
The clip kicks off exactly as one would expect it might, with the storm-porn trio of waves, lines and ruins. We meet George, a cheery, decent warehouse manager charged with getting boxes of food into the hands of needy families. The problem is that he can only do so much for them; the clip's best and most empathetic moment comes when, perched on a forklift, he recalls not having enough boxes to meet demand. "That kills you," he says, his matter-of-fact delivery more devastating than if he'd choked up while saying it.
Enter a pair of Toyota production evangelists. One explains the general thinking behind the Toyota Production System (in a few words: "instead of doing things wrong, do them right"), while the other notes the benefits of such an approach ("things get done better"). As the soundtrack swells, we see the execs meeting with the food bank workers and pointing a lot, depicting the suggestion-making process with great and furious vigor. When we reach the mini-film's conclusion - it runs around six minutes long - that footage is cross-cut with clips from a Toyota plant. What works there works here, etc.
There's reason to be impressed with what we're shown. By adjusting the size of the food boxes, Toyota allows the food bankers to fit 400 more in each Rockaways-bound truck. By reconfiguring the box-packing set-up, Toyota reduces the average packing time from three minutes to 11 seconds. Toyota also manages to shorten the time affected families wait on line to receive the boxes, with a rosy-cheeked kid noting that it only took "about a minute." All of this is good. Want a Camry now?
Where Toyota goes wrong is inserting its production people into the mix. Me, I'd have centered the clip around George and shown us the transformation through his eyes, rather than larding it down with people in button-down shirts and khakis. Similarly, even as you see the hugely positive effect Toyota's production philosophy has had on a battered community, you can't help but want to flick the ears of anyone who says, turbo-earnestly, "Outside Toyota, 'problem' can sometimes have a negative connotation. I find that in many cases, it's better to say, 'We have something that we can improve.'" Wow, you're like the Elvis of self-congratulatory bromides.
By all means, watch "Meals Per Hour" to run up the meal count. And again: props to Toyota for contributing in a sleeves-rolled-up way. Next time, though, don't be so blatant in your attempts to build up your brand rep on the back of your benevolence. It's tacky.