Media Mavens

Brian Bolain

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Brian Bolain knew traditional advertising wouldn't cut it alone. Charged with launching Toyota Division's new Scion sub-brand, Mr. Bolain faced a target market of finicky, young trendsetters. So after joining the Scion unit in early 2000 as national manager, he and his team set a viral strategy for the California-only launch of Scion in June 2003. Toyota Motor Sales USA took the brand national earlier this year via regional rollouts. Scion's final market assault was in the nation's midsection in June, which coincided with its third affordable model, the tC coupe.

Scion combined buzz marketing, event sponsorships, music tie-ins, a docudrama starring its cars, promotions and, yes, a pinch of traditional ads, handled by Attik, San Francisco. But the marketer also has partnerships to help develop and plan events with hip-hop Urb magazine, Rebel Organization (the publication's marketing arm), plus with Inform Ventures, an events outfit. Scion's guerrilla marketing has run the gamut, from sand sculptures at beaches to forehead ads in Manhattan and giveaways of music CDs with upstart bands.

Events have been a mainstay of Scion's marketing programs, first used by the automaker a year before the car ever went on sale. The top way Californians under 35 learned about Scion in 2003 was from friends; the second was a virtual tie between traditional ads and seeing the vehicles at venues. Mr. Bolain, now Scion national sales promotions manager, estimated the sub-brand participates in 60 to 100 events per month, many at nightclubs.

"What this target wants is an emotional connection with the brand," he says. Events started in each new region roughly six months before the cars went on sale. He had Scions driven to events in a 10,000-mile loop across the U.S., with music broadcast from the caravan.

No other national marketer did as many events as Scion this year, says Patrick Courrielche, managing director of Inform Ventures, which has handled Scion programs for more than a year. "Brian is good at finding that sweet spot between traditional and cutting-edge marketing. He's the driving force of Scion being such a cool brand."

One of Scion's most effective programs has been its consumer test drives, says Mr. Bolain, a 17-year veteran of Toyota. Scion took its cars to the target's hangouts for spontaneous drives instead of inviting them ahead of time. Between 28% and 30% of tC coupe test drivers asked for a dealer to contact them, which is double the industry average, he says. That bested the 25% rate of Scion's test drives for its xB and xA models.

This year's buzz efforts included a video-making contests tour, a rapper competition, a college campus movie tour and sponsorship of the And 1 street basketball tour. Scion's product brochures, given out at dealerships or mailed to hand-raisers, contained ads for car accessories including partner brands Pioneer Electronics and Southern Audio Services' Bazooka Mobile Audio-virtually unheard of in the auto industry.

At 44, Mr. Bolain is older than his key target buyer, but Simon Needham, group creative director at Attik, says, "I don't think you have to live it to get it. Brian gets it."

"It's been a wild ride, " says Mr. Bolain.

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