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For Toyota, Media Barrage Tests Measured Approach

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Celeste Migliore, a Toyota U.S. rep, said the company is "assessing the situation daily,"  but declined to give specifics. Advertising for Toyota's new 2011 model of the Sienna, which is not part of the recall, will launch on Feb. 12 as planned and will not be altered, she said.

Despite reports and rumors to the contrary, a CNN exec said Toyota is not pulling back on its advertising on the network. "They didn't pull," said the exec, who requested anonymity. "They redirected their brand activity, but they kept their inventory that they owned and reapplied brand activity that wasn't affected."

It's not clear if the company will mount a more aggressive advertising effort to address Toyota's deteriorating image. According to sources, Saatchi was planning to break such a campaign as soon as last weekend.

Migliore said Toyota has not brought in a crisis communications PR firm, but has had an ongoing working relationship with Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, which has such a practice. (That firm did not return calls.)

Frisbie said Toyota is stepping up its activity on Twitter and on the company's YouTube platform.

Too little, too late, in the view of some observers.

"If you look at Toyota's Twitter feed, it's all about recall information and it reeks of spin. It doesn't feel like they're trying very hard; it feels like they're defusing," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, who owns two Toyotas. "I get more information right now from CNN news alerts and the government. People expect access to a lot of information and a time like this is not a time to underwhelm them."

Others wonder if saving face, pervasive in Japanese corporate cultures, poorly prepared the company to deal with such a crisis. "Japanese companies don't engage in situations like this. There is a great deal of shame associated with it," said one PR executive.

Damage has already been done. In the initial days after the recall, automotive site Edmunds.com found that consumer intent to purchase Toyota products dropped almost 50 percent. Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl said Toyota's initial hesitancy in reaching out to consumers led to a public perception that the automaker was "not coming clean" about the extent of the problems.

"With Toyota you have a hyper-sensitive consumer right now," said Anwyl, "a consumer who bought the vehicle for a brand promise that has let them down and they're feeling betrayed."

See also: "Once Proud Toyota Is Learning What It Feels Like to Be Laughed At"