7 Lessons learned from Toyota's "borrowed" image follies

Toyota Borrows ImagesToyota Borrows Images

You would think that with the national coverage of such follies as The Jaguar Post-It story other large brands would pay attention and learn from the mistakes of their corporate cohorts. Such does not appear to be the case when it comes to Toyota. I wrote an article for the Denver Egotist that looks at Toyota’s recent folly in one light, but I’d like to address it in a different one here.

The Story
Before we talk about some of the underlying issues of what went wrong I’ll give you some back story on this. Last Tuesday freelance photographer Michael Calanan was told by a friend that one of his photos were being used in a new Toyota 4runner campaign. The real rub of it is that Michael (and all the other artists involved) had no idea their images were being used.

Toyota apologized via Twitter to Calanan and 2 other artists, and they even made a formal statement about it in the Flickr help forum. They have removed the images from both of their 4Runner sites however, they still have not contacted the artists as promised. At the end of this post I’ll have a list of blog posts from some of the artists involved so you can get their perspectives as well.

It doesn’t matter who made the site because when you and I look at it all we see is Toyota. That doesn’t absolve them from what was done, but ultimately it’s up to Toyota to make sure the people they do business with are doing it ethically.

Both parties (Toyota and their agency of record) had an obligation here to ensure that the artists were talked to about this. They had a very nice concept, but the execution was poor. When getting involved, if you’re not 1000% sure on something ask someone who knows. A small consultation fee is worth it when avoiding the backlash from poor execution of this manner.

However if you do make a mistake own up to it and then take action. Toyota did great at owning up to it, but that’s where it stopped. Which brings us to the next lesson.

If you’re going to be seen as a company who truly cares then your apologies need to be followed up with sincere action. Right now it just looks like Toyota is only interested in saving their own skin and that’s it. It’s been almost 3 days since the whole thing came to light and they still haven’t talked to the artists.

Everyone screws up. We’re all human and corporations are made up of humans so it’s safe to say they will screw up. The real source of strength is in how you deal with it. If you make some half-hearted remarks to save face but do nothing to make amends you have failed. We are humans just like you and we expect to be treated with respect and sincerity just like you do.

Think of others
When doing something that uses other people’s content you should ask yourself “do they even want it used?” What if some of the bloggers and photogs hated Toyota? Wanted nothing at all to do with them and now their work is on Toyota’s site. Forget “social media best practices”, it’s just good manners to ask before you use something that doesn’t belong to you.

We all have our own thoughts, feelings, and views based on the experiences we’ve had in our life. That needs to be respected and you can’t jump into the online culture these days with a “me me me” mentality.

To me it doesn’t look like there was much planning on the side of Toyota when setting up the social media column on their site. The execution of it all just reeks of “look what I can do”. If they had planned it all out then this post wouldn’t be written and people wouldn’t be pissed off.

Part of planning for this should have been “how do we get people to look at our expensive new site?” and one of those answers should have been “lets reach out to the people using social media channels”. Most people would be thrilled to have their work used by a major brand even just for the exposure it would bring to them and their work.

Importance of a Reaction Strategy
The online world today has changed dramatically and is in a constant state of evolution. This is why you need to be prepared for the worst. If Toyota had a reaction strategy for bad online press this would have been done and over with on day one. They would have known who needed to do what and how to do it.

Right now I can only imagine that their silence stems from one of two things. Lack of sincerity or panic because they don’t know what to do. Even if you have a true lack of sincerity you could at least try and make things suck less for yourself by having a solid plan behind how to react to situations like this.

Like I said above, the Internet is evolving faster and faster and if you’re going to survive and avoid things like this you need to keep on top of it. If you don’t have time to deal with it or don’t want to then HIRE SOMEON WHO WILL. What you will pay them in consulting fees or as a salary will be well worth it every time they help you avoid disaster and build your brand in a positive way.

Social media, hell the entire Internet is based on communication of some sort. Someone dropped the ball somewhere and left communication out of the process. Whether it was Toyota not communicating with the artists or Toyota not communicating with their agency of record to make sure it was done right doesn’t matter at this point. What matter is they didn’t communicate and it’s costing them.

Bottom line, there is no excuse for what happened. Several images were copyrighted, some were “All Rights Reserved” and others were “protected” under the Flickr TOS. Until people realize that this isn’t the old west and playing fast and loose doesn’t cut it anymore we’re going to see more and more examples like this popping up.

Thanks for reading,
Josh “Shua”Peters

Related Posts by other people:
Michael Calanan: Found my photo used without permission
Dmourati: Oh What a feeling
Snorri Gunnarson: Toyota stealing photos of Flickr

Photo District News: Toyota Apologizes For Using Flickr Photos In SUV Ad
Brands Anatomy: The bigger the brand the bigger the blunder
Cnet: Getty and Flickr deepen photo-license ties
The Denver Egotist: Toyota Shamefully “Borrows” Image from Local Denver Photographer

Gallaries of the “borrowed” images
Toyota, oh What a stealing! 1
Toyota, oh What a stealing! 2
Toyota, oh What a stealing! 3

Update: It looks like the agency of record in this case is Saatchi & Saatchi, other posts point to them as the culprit, and their site lists Toyota as a current client. I called them, left a message with the Toyota rep but haven’t heard back yet.

Update: I talked to Erin Poole, the PR manager for Saatchi & Saatchi and she did acknowledge that they worked on the campaign and that they were in the process of making things right. I applaud them for that and I’ll update this if I know anything more about it.

Update: It looks like Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi were very serious about making amends. I talked to some of the artists and they received a stipend of around $500  for the use of their image and an offer to keep using it on the site. Kudos to Erin Poole at Saatchi & Saatchi and the folks at Toyota for taking action and working with the community and not against it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmourati Demetri Mouratis

    Thanks for the story and the link.

    • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

      You're welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    What can be done…other than watermarking?

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      Watermarking is really the best option if you're going to be placing them in a public place online.

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    Thanks for the story, really interesting.

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