Kaizen and Cause Marketing

When translated into English, the Japanese word Kaizen is typically rendered as “continuous improvement.” That is, to keep working on your processes… implementing small and oftentimes cheap improvements… to make them better and better. Few companies or nonprofits… in Japan or anywhere else… are likely to survive if they don’t practice some version of kaizen. And it’s precisely the word to describe what Toyota’s marketing department practiced with its cause marketing effort called “Meals Per Hour,” which is a video about the people of Rockaways, New York in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Rockaways is a thin peninsula in Queens, New York that faces the Atlantic, sorta like a barrier island. As the crow flies, it’s only five or six miles from the center of Brooklyn. But unless you’re a crow it’s a little remote for New York City. And so when Sandy hit, the Rockaways were devastated, what with all that ocean frontage. And getting food relief to them was a challenge.

It was made all the more challenging because the food bank delivering food to the Rockaways wasn’t as efficient as it needed to be. People in the Rockaways waited in line for food for hours. Putting each box together took volunteers three minutes. Sometimes the food bank would run out of food before helping every family, even though their delivery truck had been full.

Meals Per Hour describes how Toyota dispatched a couple of efficiency experts to teach the Toyota Production System, the company’s own version of kaizen to the Metro branch of the New York Food Bank serving the Rockaways.

The video explains how they suggested simple ways to improvement the system, so that the Metro branch was able to get more boxes on the truck, and pack them in just 11 seconds! The end result was the needy residents of the Rockaways were served better and faster.

But this post isn’t about the kaizen of the Metro Food Bank it’s about the kaizen of Toyota’s marketing department after they had released the video.

Toyota set up the video such that every view generated a meal for the New York Food Bank, ending today. Toyota's goal was 1 million views and 1 million meals. When I watched it last night the viewcount on YouTube was 1,000,001, I kid you not.

Toyota activated it with paid media. Paid search, for instance. But the ‘Watch One, Give One’ approach quickly paid off and Toyota’s marketers decided to reroute the budget for campaign activation to the Food Bank.

“Once the documentary launched and we saw the amount of organic pick-up, we re-allocated our paid media dollars to fund additional donations to [meals nonprofit] Food Bank,” Marjorie Schussel, Toyota's Corporate Marketing Director, told Adweek. “Today, there is only a small amount of paid search on targeted terms allocated to support Meals Per Hour.”


In other words, not only was the video about kaizen the cause marketing promotion became about kaizen, too.

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