Column: Why Toyota & Honda recall products

As I write this, there are at least three major product recall dramas growing in the US?over J&J?s Tylenol, Toyota?s recall of more than a million cars and Honda recalling Jazz.

As I write this, there are at least three major product recall dramas growing in the US?over J&J?s Tylenol, Toyota?s recall of more than a million cars and Honda recalling Jazz. Honda?s problems have spilled over into India with the recall of a few thousand City models. And while none of these companies would have attempted to deliberately short-change people, lives have been affected. Whether we like it or not, bad and harmful news gets picked up faster by more people than the cheerful news of a company that?s adding free vitamins to its products.

It?s not very surprising that product recalls have become commonplace. Go online, google a bit, and out pops Dell, IBM Lenovo, Nokia, Ford, Pfizer and many more companies that recalled their products. In India, too, we have seen Coke, Bajaj and others. And we?ll see more of these as we go along. Especially since we are in a hurry to get out new technologies, new drugs and combine all kinds of things to create newer products quickly.

The day is not too far before many of us find ourselves at the wrong end of the supply chain. Either as victims or perpetrators, as thousands of manufacturers and industries race each other to unleash new product lines, most of them perhaps cheaply outsourced or not thoroughly researched. In these days of tough economics, cutting a few corners won?t raise too many management eyebrows either. Especially if these redundancies don?t take away anything from the core DNA of their product. So, if the windscreen wiper is a few microns thinner, and if the wood on your dashboard has one less coat of polish, there?s no way you?d feel underpowered. Your car is still going to snarl like the beast you?d parked in your heart.

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It?s when the omissions get bigger and more substantial that matters go grave and life-threatening?when the steering column is given inadequate checks, and when compromises are made in the strength of its steel. Life gets more complicated and corners even smaller, when such frugal thinking gets applied within food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. Thankfully, there are competent consumer protection groups and private laboratories that have access to precision equipment to validate and ratify complaints. From an advertising perspective, a product recall exercise is an opportunity to responsibly engage itself with people as a whole, and not just the consuming class.

Because at some level, everybody is a target. The efficiency at which distribution is reversed and flawed products replaced with new or corrected products can redeem a company. And if done well, this can be a stellar example of corporate social responsibility. While a recall scenario impacts both big and small companies, the latter have bigger issues. It will upset the organisational balance, and test the inner fibre and calibre. There?d be internal upheavals, blame games, legal suits, share losses, loss of revenue, loss of jobs, loss of trust, loss of pride, and long-term loss of brand equity built on decades of honest sweat. It won?t be pretty.

While life ought to get cautious for all companies, life could get terrible for those who make products that we consume. Then again, what about our market that?s full of fake products? What about the damage they wreak on millions of us who cannot afford brands. Shouldn?t we understand and reorganise our watchdogs to enforce quality and physically banish such products? What happens if something goes wrong with spurious products? Biscuits, chocolates, colas, drugs? Are the companies that own these brands responsible? How can they be responsible for someone else counterfeiting their products? Or, is the government and our enforcement systems the culprit? Who will make sure that these products are recalled and destroyed for ever?

Aren?t you and I paying taxes in hopes that someone out there is seeing the consequences waiting to hit us when we get older? Or are we all dispensable?

How is it that only the roads in front of our houses get botched by monsoons? And the roads that run in front of political leaders stay healthy? Are the rains intelligent enough to avoid the city?s more powerful areas? It?s basic engineering that I am questioning. Not nuclear science. Why doesn?t the government see this? Why not ask those people to make the roads again? Product recall ought to be a thought applicable everywhere. Look at the chaos that fog brings to Delhi. We have the ability to send stuff to the moon, but we still don?t know how to help trains and planes through fog. As a nation we have learned to live among suspect quality standards, malpractice and corruption. And we cannot think out of that box.

We are such a wonderful nation with a brilliant future. Yet, if the foundation of this future is not protected, and if we allow us to be at the mercy of bad quality and worse thinking, there cannot be a future for our future.

The author is national creative director, Cheil Worldwide, SW Asia

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First published on: 04-02-2010 at 21:54 IST