Aim young; no, younger

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The youth category by any name-echo boomer, Generation Y, millennial or simply teen-ager-is attracting more of the auto ad pie as marketers move dollars out of traditional media and into lifestyle marketing programs.

Toyota Motor Sales USA estimates that 4 million will reach driv-ing age every year until 2010. It's easy to see why kids who ride bicycles, skateboards or lace up in-line skates and spend much of their time surfing the Internet-but aren't old enough to drive-are being courted by carmakers. "There's an emerging generation that is coming out of their teen-age years that is going to be as large or larger than baby boomers, and all of us manufacturers have recognized the huge potential," says Steve Sturm, Toyota Division VP-marketing. "It's there, and we need to attract those buyers for our future."

Almost every auto marketer is after buyers with active lifestyles. But it's a term that never seemed to fit older baby boomers. After the raucous days of the 1960s and '70s, many of them are quite comfortable being couch potatoes. But marketing departments throughout the automotive industry have found that lifestyle marketing, rather than traditional advertising, is the most efficient way to reach buyers and future buyers who are now under 24.

Robert Fesmire, brand manager of the young-skewing Ford Focus, says: "We've found that the millennials have five key connection points-music, fashion, entertainment, sports and technology."

The Focus' marketing campaign includes interactive TV commercials, cinema advertising and a lot of promotional alliances. J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, handles advertising for the Ford Division of Ford Motor Co.


Most of the Focus' marketing effort takes place at venues that are foreign to baby boomers-like "Hoop It Up," a national street basketball tour. And the car's campaign is really an example of what every automaker is trying to do to reach teen-agers and young adults.

Mr. Fesmire says the target audience of the Focus is people between 16 and 24, while the consumption audience-the people who actually buy the car-consists of 18-to-26-year-olds.

Toyota created Genesis Group, a special marketing unit to reach young adults. Genesis launched its first campaign to support three youthful models-Celica, Echo and the MR2 Spyder. The effort includes a Web site ( Mr. Sturm says that more than 40% of buyers for all three models are under 35.

Mr. Fesmire explains the auto marketers' youth strategy is "a shift in mind-set to where we're trying to make a connection from a lifestyle perspective rather than just traditional product benefits in our advertising. That's what we're trying to do with Focus."

Research by Rodale's MH-18, a spinoff of Men's Health, supports the growing trend toward lifestyle-oriented automotive marketing. The research reveals up to 60% of teen-age boys reported participating in various activities outside of their schools from golf, in-line skating and cycling to the usual bevy of team sports in the last 12 months.

The quarterly magazine's target reader, 13-to-18-year-old males, compose a vocal chunk of the 31 million teen-agers that auto marketers want to reach. "Something like a quarter of all male teens plan to purchase a new or used vehicle in the next 12 months," claims Steve Bruman, associate publisher of MH-18.

Concert tours are big ticket items in reaching echo boomers, too. American Honda Motor Co. will use a national tour in May by the pop-punk band Blink 182 to introduce the all-new Civic to echo boomers. With a CD titled "Enema of the State," this southern California band would seem like a joke to baby boomers. But not to young male fans who have snapped up 6 million CDs since 1996-and not to its automaker sponsor.


General Motors Corp.'s, an environmental conservation Web site for kids, educators and parents, is a low-key affair. Nancy Somers, program manager for GM's Environmental Science Club, says that since September, the site has had more than 360,000 hits from visitors seeking conservation and outdoor activities. Potentially, Ms. Somers says, environmentalists and kids will note GM's efforts to protect the environment.

"If you don't capture them early, if you don't get on their consideration list, if you don't get into their lifestyles early," says Toyota's Mr. Sturm, "as they get older and get into their careers, they're not going to put you onto their needs and wants list."

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