After years of marketing itself to just about the youngest driving demographic possible, Toyota's Scion brand today will announce a new campaign -- a mea culpa of sorts that its advertising might have actually aimed too young in the past, just as the brand is now starting to show signs of life after years of declining sales.
"We wanted to talk to our customers and consumers and we learned a number of things about our brand. And No. 1 on the list, from an awareness standpoint, was that nine years in we're still a mystery to some of these buyers," Scion VP Doug Murtha said. "Even though we're talking to people we thought were in our age wheelhouse, in their minds we're often their younger brother or sister's car. We probably marketed too young to them."
The campaign [see above], from longtime creative agency of record Attik, San Francisco, starts on Oct. 1. Despite a median buyer age of 37 -- young for the car industry -- Scion's target was even younger, as it marketed to the 18-to-24 crowd practically since the birth of the brand in 2000.
It hasn't worked. At least not well enough.
Scion's peak came in 2006 when it sold 173,000 cars. That number was down to 45,000 units by 2010, but rose to 46,000 last year and stands at 49,000 through August. Scion figures that 's a good number to build on with a new campaign.
"Demographically, yes, 37 is where we want to be," Mr. Murtha said. "But beyond the age aspect, the profile of the Scion customer is also narrow in the mind of the customer. We're still associated with the 'bad-boy hipster' image which, quite honestly, we promoted out of the gate."
Scion has long crafted its campaigns to appeal to a younger crowd, especially first-time buyers, including creating its own record label and releasing music free of charge to consumers, as well as guerilla-marketing efforts and even ads on foreheads.
But it still didn't resonate as well as the brand would have hoped, as research found that the 18-to-24-year-old demo still thought of the car as something even younger kids received as a 16th birthday gift or a graduation present.
Scion even stepped out its comfort zone last year with a campaign using the Greek god Zeus to try to extend its target audience from 18-to-24 to 18-to-34. Still didn't work.
The tone alone of this campaign, which focuses squarely on the longtime tagline of "What Moves You," is starkly different from past efforts. Scion positioned itself as an urban brand, using dark imagery, "which implied gritty, almost seediness," says Owen Peacock, Scion's national manager of marketing and communication. "Now it's an emphasis on renewal, investment, hopeful and optimistic."
Where the Zeus campaign was a product-focused campaign centered around a limited-edition car, "What Moves You" touts Scion as a brand, particularly in social-media circles. Where Zeus was flashy, campy, even male juvenile, "What Moves You" is more serious, more emotional, gender-neutral and far more mature. Zeus had a fictional character that the company found viewers could not relate to; "What Moves You" will use real stories and real people.
"Knowing what we now know, [the Zeus campaign] was too juvenile," Mr. Murtha said. "It was kind of a cheeky ad and I'm not sure we would do that going forward."
Despite Mr. Murtha saying there wasn't much flexibility and fluctuation in an ad budget that was around $20 million last year, Scion is still going broad on national TV with the new campaign and allocating a little more for online and print executions.
"After looking at the data and research, you find yourself in the very unusual position of realizing, 'I'm selling a car aimed at youth and I'm skewing too young,' " Mr. Peacock said. "We looked back over the last few years and asked ourselves what the communication was and what created the perception of the consumer ad. We're still going to go out and do our digital properties, we're still going to be involved in music, art, fashion, design. But this new campaign allows us a broader swath."