Wednesday, June 20, 2012

9 Lessons From Toshiba's No-Print Day Debacle

Was it the negative feedback from printing-industry customers?

Or maybe seeing its "#noprintday" hashtag taken over by critics who screamed "Greenwash!"?

Or perhaps it flinched when the industry it attacked held up the mirror to its own questionable environmental record. (As the old cheer goes, "U-G-L-Y, You ain't got not alibi. You're ug-LY!")

For whatever reason, a U.S. arm of Toshiba pulled the plug today on its National No-Print Day campaign. Michael Makin, President and CEO of Printing Industries of America, announced the news this morning after a conversation last night with a Toshiba executive.

A few hours later, Toshiba's "Tree" spokescharacter got the axe; his video and web site were disabled. (Disclosure: Mr. Tree is no relation to D. Eadward Tree, the writer of this blog. I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot branch.)

But let's not celebrate too much before absorbing some lessons from this saga:
  1. We print lovers are still doing a crappy job getting the word out about how printing and paper usage are not necessarily bad for the environment. How many people do you suppose were involved in conceiving and approving of the No-Print Day campaign? (The main Toshiba web site linked to the campaign for the first few days, so the effort wasn't confined to some obscure corner of the organization.) Apparently not one of them questioned whether the campaign would actually help the environment or realized the effort would create a fact-based backlash.

  2. We environmentalists aren't doing much better getting the word out about the importance of buying environmentally friendly paper. If the message had reached Toshiba, the company would have recognized its vulnerability on environmental issues and avoided discussions of paper and the environment. It would not have indirectly attacked makers of office paper like Domtar and Sappi, which have it beat on transparency and probably on environmental stewardship as well.

  3. The printing and paper industries, and the media that serve them, were asleep on the job. Toshiba announced the campaign on June 4, and a few industry web sites dutifully posted the news release. But, as far as I can tell, there was no public word of complaint or criticism until an obscure blog called Dead Tree Edition posted an article six days later. And that didn't have much impact until the issue was covered by more respectable outlets like Printing Impressions and WhatTheyThink? over the next few days. 

  4. The printing industry may have been slow to react, but the paper industry (both companies and trade associations) hardly responded at all. TwoSides jumped into the fray quickly, but otherwise the industry was amazingly quiet considering that National No-Print Day was fundamentally an anti-paper campaign. Was the American Forest and Paper Association still putting on its armor when Toshiba capitulated, or did it decide to sit out this battle altogether?

  5. It may be getting harder for big corporations to get away with greenwashing. Maybe.

  6. I take back the awful things I said about Twitter three years ago. Much of the Battle of Toshiba -- some people would say most of the battle -- was fought on the Battlefield of Twitter. Social media, especially Twitter, were certainly the main means of building the rapidly growing anti-Toshiba grassroots effort that spread word of a boycott and turned "#noprintday" into a tool for embarrassing the company. And it was fun to watch and participate.

  7. Individuals, especially well-informed individuals aided by social media, can make a difference. I'm seeing congratulatory comments today like "David vs. Goliath" and "Whale Wars" describing how a loose confederation of concerned people -- not big companies -- stymied a major Japanese corporation.

  8. Non-traditional media outlets played a crucial role in turning Toshiba around -- or so people are telling me. I'm sure the traditional trade media had much larger audiences for their Toshiba articles, but the confederation was tweeting and linking to content from sites like PrintMediaCentr and Dead Tree Edition; I've never had so many "RTs" (retweets). Deborah Corn of PrintMediaCentr (the Goddess of Social Media for the entire Printerverse, who has written her own engaging account of "Occupy Green Street") helped me understand why: "You and I can blast Toshiba -- freely. We can tweet and post and rile the masses without a care in the world about any 'approval' or if Toshiba sponsors any of our events or exhibits or whatever else." And, as one supporter pointed out, the mainstream media won't use phrases like "turd in the punchbowl" in headlines.

  9. Social-media buzz doesn't necessarily equate to large audiences for a web site. My three previous articles on Toshiba enjoyed plenty of retweets and stirred up lively discussions on several LinkedIn groups. But together they have about 3,000 page views so far, which is less than a single non-Toshiba article I published three days ago.
One final question: Do you suppose Toshiba will want to exhibit, or even be allowed to exhibit, at printing industry trade shows any time soon? In fact, was the aborted campaign a sign that Toshiba no longer cared about selling to the printing industry and is planning to shut down that part of its business?


Anonymous said...

So glad to hear Toshiba has come to their senses. Thanks to all in the Print and Paper industry that made our voice heard load and clear. Perhaps together now we can dispel some of the other myths and falsehoods plaguing our industry. I spoke of this in a recent blog post:

Anonymous said...

Great follow up article. You've posed some GREAT questions. I hope enough of us "paper and printing supporters" can use this as a starting point for improved marketing and communications regarding our industries and the positive aspects of using MORE paper and print rather than less. Well done!

Candice Russell said...

This has been such an interesting story to follow, from both an environmental and a social media perspective. Instead of adding to the pros and cons of print versus digital, I thought it would be good to take a moment to consider how companies can reduce their environmental footprint within the communication channels that they are already using. Please see (from Pitney Bowes) 4 ways to make your communications environmentally friendly for some actionable ideas on how to reduce waste.