When Suzuki entered the U.S. market in 1988, its Suzuki Samurai was tested by the staff at Consumer Reports, a trusted source of consumer advocacy. But when the magazine published its findings, the Samurai was rated a “Not Acceptable” safety hazard because it allegedly rolled over in turns. The cover story decimated sales and damaged the reputation of American Suzuki Motor Corp. and all of its new vehicles for years. Consumer Reports continued to exploit the Samurai evaluation over time for financial and promotional gain until 1996, when Suzuki filed a product disparagement lawsuit alleging that the testing was rigged and the magazine staff so biased that it force the vehicle to tip over and maliciously published the false results.
The public reputation of Consumer Reports was so high that Suzuki hired Gladstone International, a crisis management firm in Southern California. We were brought on as media consultants to help Suzuki present its case to the public, prepare for media challenges and provide compelling information about Suzuki’s side of the story. We produced a video with enhanced audio that revealed incriminating comments by Consumer Reports staff, a lengthy Q&A to prepare for media interviews and a 12-piece media kits. We coordinated a news conference in Washington D.C. when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And we engaged long-time Samurai owners and fan clubs to defend the vehicle’s safety record in a viral online campaign..
Our efforts generated coverage from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to the BBC and a special on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” where Suzuki’s general counsel appeared to challenge the publication. Although Suzuki settled the lawsuit in 2004, our efforts contributed to the restored reputation of the carmaker and media analysis showed media references to the Samurai as a dangerous vehicle virtually disappeared as a result.