Toyota eyes agencies for youth brand

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Toyota Motor sales USA is seeking an ad agency to launch a youth brand, which is expected to be unveiled at the New York auto show in March.

The account, likely to include non-traditional marketing such as concerts, is expected to be worth at least $50 million.

Steve Sturm, Toyota VP-marketing, declined comment. A Toyota spokeswoman said the automaker had no announcements on the matter to make at this time.

Toyota's general-market agency, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., and its recently hired multicultural shop, Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, are said to be among shops in the review.

Saatchi declined comment. Burrell, an African-American agency 49% owned by Publicis, denied it was in the review. But people close to Burrell said it is pitching through its youth-urban-cool "Yurban" team separately from Saatchi.

Other contenders could include Dentsu's Oasis Advertising, New York, which handles Toyota's corporate advertising; an Oasis insider said the shop was not involved. Leagas Delaney, San Francisco, is believed to be in the review; the shop couldn't be reached at deadline.

Jim Press, Toyota exec VP-chief operating officer, told dealers a month ago that Toyota will launch a U.S.-only brand of vehicles targeted at youth, Advertising Age sibling Automotive News reported earlier this month. The move has been long expected as Toyota works to attract younger buyers (see related story, P. 4).

It's not clear whether the new brand will be sold in existing Toyota dealerships, as General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet did with its now-defunct Geo brand, or through separate stores, as Toyota does with luxury line Lexus.

Mr. Press last spring told Ad Age Toyota was considering a youth sub-brand and wouldn't rule out hiring an agency for the effort. But he said low-priced youth vehicles don't carry profit margins to justify standalone dealerships.

Toyota in Japan has made moves with models and marketing to reach youth in its home market. In the U.S., it has been aggressively chasing the youth market since 1998, when it formed an internal team dubbed Genesis Group. Made up of insiders 35 years and younger, the unit studied the best ways to reach the youth segment. Saatchi has worked on Genesis since the fall 1999 launch of the youth-targeted Toyota Echo subcompact.

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