Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Sarah Feldner

Second Advisor

Kati Berg

Third Advisor

Joyce Wolburg

Abstract

This study focuses on Toyota's 2010 accelerator pedal recalls and its use of crisis response strategies that relied on past performance. As a precursor, the author researched current literature regarding crisis communication and identified two key areas of research: understanding crisis and its impact and crisis response. To understand crisis communication it is necessary to first define a crisis and the impact it has on an organization's image, identity, and/or reputation. Once the crisis occurs, the organization must respond considering the audience, type of crisis, and the phase of the life cycle the crisis is in to determine a proper response strategy.

A close textual analysis was used to analyze 50 artifacts from January through March 2010, regarding the recall from Toyota's website created specifically for the recalls. Through the use of close textual analysis, the author uncovered six themes including a focus on updating customers as a united front on the recalls as well as attempting to regain its customer's trust though the recalls and focus on past performance; Toyota finally apologizing although it was a masked apology, and exuding confidence by explaining its superior technology; and Toyota's focus on being defensive in its responses as well as attacks from media outlets and government agencies. This study has theoretical implications such as the use of identity maintenance as an aspect of crisis response, the significance of reputation, and ethical implications. Also, pragmatic implications for an organization's crisis communication discourse which include building a strong reputation, if the organization is lack a strong reputation it should rely on identity maintenance during the crisis response, and consumers need to be more critical of organizations going through a crisis.