Youthful thinking

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Two car marketers realize the youth market holds their future.

Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Sales USA are in the midst of drives to attract younger consumers. The two marketers launched all new cars this model year targeted at buyers as young as 20.

"It's time for us to bond with the next generation" the way we bonded with baby boomers when they were in their early 20s, says Jim Press, exec VP at Toyota.

The marketers' strategies differ.

Toyota is taking a three-vehicle approach to reach 20-to-37-year-olds, says Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at the marketer. The all-new Echo is a small car aimed at fresh college graduates; target for the redesigned Celica coupe are in their mid-20s, and slightly older for the MR2 Spyder two-seat convertible.

TWENTYSOMETHING TARGET

Ford Division is aiming ads for its all-new Focus small car and wagon models at 21-to-29-year- olds, even though older consumers are buying the model too, says Julie Roehm, brand manager.

"This campaign is very much geared to youth activities and lifestyle, but it can still capture the imagination of anybody," she says.

The youth campaigns for both carmakers started last fall.

J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, created live TV commercials for the Ford Focus, along with separate, taped executions that broke last September. Ford also sponsored a series of music concerts with artists popular with the target consumers. The marketer is offering youth-oriented limited-edition models. For example, in a deal with bicycle marketer Kona Mountain Bikes, a co-branded Focus with a roof rack and a bike arrives in May.

For Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., created a futuristic-looking 45-second spot dubbed "Revolution" that promoted all three cars. Echo commercials broke in October asking questions such as "Why do Echos carry so well?"

MR2 launched earlier this month with a 15-second spot on a trio of Web sites.

Toyota's effort has a strong event component, including Echo as the official car sponsor of the Sports & Social Club. Core participants in the intramural sports' group are between the ages of 22 and 30.

TIGHT WEB

Campaigns from both carmakers have strong Internet components since that's where the target audience spends a lot of time. Both Toyota and Ford created Web sites to reach the Echo boomers, or children of baby boomers.

Art Spinella, VP at CNW Marketing/Research, cautions that the Internet may not be a panacea to carmakers. He cites findings of his consultancy's recent survey of online car shoppers, saying the data indicate consumers who shop for cars online appear to be less loyal than those who shop at dealerships.

Many of Toyota's youth-oriented ads, especially for the MR2, are directing prospects to its site (isthistoyota.com).

Ford's Focus site (focus247.com) just wrapped up a sweepstakes that let consumers accumulate points by voting for actors and scenes they wanted to see in upcoming live TV commercials from JWT.

"A 55-year-old might not participate, but he may still think it's cool," says Ms. Roehm.

Both Toyota and Ford claim early sales studies show their youth movements are working.

Focus went on sale last September. Ford sold nearly 56,000 Focus cars and wagons last year, according to Automotive News.

AGE SKEWS LOWER

Ms. Roehm says 46% of the buyers were under 35 and 25% were under 25. Nearly half of all buyers were women.

Echo went on sale last October and Toyota sold 10,490 units last year, Automotive News says. In the first two months of this year, Toyota sold 8,247 units.

Mr. Sturm says early-buyer reports reveal the average age of Echo buyers as 37. But, he adds, that age is "significantly younger" than the average age of all Toyota vehicles, which is 46. The average age of the buyer who purchases a new Celica is 33, compared with the 40-year-old average age for buyers of the last model.

It's too early to discuss results for Toyota's MR2, which also will have the low annual sales volume of about 5,000 units.

Toyota sells too many Corolla units to appeal to youth's desire for individualized vehicles, says Mr. Sturm.

Mr. Spinella says average-age numbers for car buyers can be misleading, since many parents buy new vehicles for their children. Recent CNW research of 15to-20-year-olds who bought a new vehicle last year revealed 36.8% of them were making partial payments to a parent or finance company for the vehicle. The average price of the vehicle was $14,738 vs. the $21,600 industry average.

Jim O'Connor, president of Ford Division, says the brand's former entry-level car, the Escort, isn't getting any advertising. The model attracted buyers of all ages. Escort sales slid to 12,691 in January and February 2000 vs. 42,812 a year ago, Automotive News says.

But both carmakers are hoping to instill aspiration for their new cars in the teen market.

Last fall, the carmaker teamed up with Bolt.com to develop a link from Ford's teen Web area. Ford hopes to learn about teens' wants and needs in cars and trucks.

"This partnership with Bolt.com enables Ford to better connect and develop an ongoing dialogue with the Echoboom generation, the largest cohort group in history, who are going to fundamentally change the automotive landscape," says Jacques Nasser, president-CEO of Ford.

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