Ford Motor Co. started the shift in 1999 with the launch of its small Ford Focus. Ford Division sponsored concerts, put the car in the hands of young influencers to start a buzz and inked a deal for independent short films with the car at the Sundance Film Festival.
BMW of North America's Mini USA raised the bar in 2002 with slick, on-site marketing executions and little traditional measured media from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. Toyota Motor Sales USA took it up a notch further in 2004 to launch Scion with guerrilla tactics that let the target discover the new sub-brand.
Scion has some new tricks in its bag for 2006.
In addition to its ongoing student filmmaker, art and disc jockey competitions around the U.S., Toyota introduced a new line of clothing branded Release, linked to Scion but not carrying the name. Mark Templin, VP overseeing Scion, says the "urban golf" wear can be bought online or at Toyota dealerships. "Golf is an aspirational sport" for a lot of young people, but the line has a new flair lacking in frumpy traditional golf apparel, he says.
Scion does more than 100 events monthly around the nation, trying to reach young trendsetters. Mr. Templin says his team will do more special owner events to engage them in 2006, much of the activity online. He's experimenting with mobile phone marketing but wants to ensure that it's pull marketing, not push. For his cable TV buys, Mr. Templin plans more late-night and "even more obscure [cable] programming." Attik, San Francisco, handles ad creative, while other partners like Inform Ventures, Los Angeles, handle new marketing.
Scion spent a measly $27 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, and Mini spent just $18.2 million. Mr. Templin says Scion sold some 156,000 cars in 2005 and has 66% awareness with consumers younger than 35. Mini said it sold nearly 49,000 vehicles.
Scion's formula is working. Mr. Templin reports that the median age of his buyers is 31 across Scion's three-model lineup, and 24 for the tC coupe.
Toyota will target "mainstream youth" for its new Yaris entry-level small car line, he says.
Scion's parent started an online pre-launch for Yaris in March, sending e-mails to targeted consumers who opted in on Toyota.com. The e-mail offered the chance to win a video iPod to the first 1,000 people who answered a survey "to get to know the kind of people who are interested in Yaris a little better."
American Honda Motor Co. is using similar tactics to launch its Honda Fit entry-level small car. Honda gave out hand-size flipbooks for Fit on the auto show circuit earlier this year. In March, it activated FitFreak.net. The site announces DJ events with dancing and art exhibitions that started March 24 and end April 28.
The Fit is described as having "impressively big smallness" at a Fit microsite accessed from Honda.com. Visitors can play the "Master Mode" game that shows off the car's carrying capabilities in a fun way. The site's theme is "The Fit is go," most likely the tag that will also appear in more traditional ads from RPA, Santa Monica, Calif., though neither the marketer nor agency would comment.
Chrysler Group is taking "our most aggressive communications plan away from broadcast TV" for the launch of its Dodge Caliber small hatchback, aimed at 25-to-35-year-olds, says George Murphy, global senior VP-marketing. Roughly 20% of the car's total budget is for online. That includes ads on social networking and video sites like friendster.com, YouTube.com and myspace.com.
Caliber is backed by eight video games, four of them custom; a co-branding effort with Best Buy Co. on its site and in store circulars; and online comics in a deal with Marvel Comics.
COMEDY WEB BUY
"We have to be on broadcast TV" to build awareness for a new model by reaching a broad audience, Mr. Murphy says. But in trying to squeeze more from its ad dollars, media buyer PHD Detroit, Troy, Mich., tied the Caliber to Comedy Central's Web site and integration into its Friday night "Stand Up Nation With Greg Giraldo" show on the cable network. The tie-in includes routines featuring Mr. Giraldo in the car on Manhattan streets. An A&E deal has tattoo artist Drizzle on site with the car in Las Vegas.
The estimated $50 million Caliber launch, handled by BBDO Detroit, Troy, broke a few weeks ago.
At Nissan North America, Media Director John Rinek says it's too soon to reveal specifics about the launch of the Nissan Versa small hatchback this fall. While Versa will get more interactive backing than past launches, it will still receive a heavy dose of traditional media, a necessity with any new important model, he says.
"There's a lot of shifting going on in the industry with media," Mr. Rinek says. "We're all trying to get more targeted and more accountable."