Now Toyota's eclectic-minded Scion sub-brand is casting the automaker in a youthful glowing light. With a slim marketing budget and clever outreach, Scion is generating buzz and attracting trend-setting younger buyers. Nearly 90% of converts have never owned a Toyota before.
A culture club has sprung up, much like youthful fans of tricked-out vehicles such as BMW's Mini Cooper or Chrysler Group's Jeep.
VP-Scion Jim Farley, a young 42 and vastly energetic, has become the marque's poster boy. He travels the globe explaining the Scion phenomenon to curious crowds.
Even with scant ad dollars, Toyota sold 99,259 Scions last year. "We were shocked," Mr. Farley exclaims. "That's with 0 incentive. The average small car has a $3,000 incentive."
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's second-largest automaker, spent $8 million to introduce the first two Scions, aimed at young males, in California in 2003. The ante rose to $46 million in the first nine months of 2004 as Scion went national, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
three models sold
By last June, all three Scions-the hatchback xA, boxy xB and tC coupe-were on board and regional launches were under way. This year, Toyota Motor Sales USA projects 120,000 Scion sales, which would be an increase of about 21%. The original brand launch tagline of "What moves you" stays put.
At yearend, the sturdy cross-type xB appeared the runaway favorite, accounting for 47.4% of annual sales. The sporty tC coupe, introduced only last June, had to play catch-up and now appears to be the best seller.
The goal of Scion was to drive down buyer ages by attracting new faces. The median age of Scion buyers is 34, compared with 49 for Toyota and 54 for Lexus. Scion is shooting for even younger buyers.
Scion buyers are supposed to be influencers. They love personalizing their possessions. Hence, a lucrative customizing and accessories market is building. Scion research shows owners spend $1,000-$3,000 on customization and accessories, from paint jobs to XM satellite radios with Bazooka subwoofers.
Mr. Farley says the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cavalier, Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta and BMW Mini brands are chief competitors. However, he doesn't include in this list the boxy, Generation Y-aimed Honda Element. More than one-third, or 34%, of Scion buyers are conquests from Honda, Toyota says.
In 2002, Scion hired Attik, a 20-year-old U.K. agency, to carry the brand message forward.
Attik is "very innovative and expert with digital," Mr. Farley says. "Plus, they had the best feeling for young trend-setters. It's kind of ubiquitous-they know how to portray a unique, affordable product in a proven way."
Simon Needham, Attik co-founder and its chief creative force, says: "We want to produce content for young people without shouting, `Buy this car!' We're generating informative entertainment. An SUV winding through the hills of southern California [has been] seen a thousand times."
These consumers are strangers to most auto industry marketers, he says. They disdain commercialism and don't really want "their brand" to be discovered.
Mr. Farley observes: "They demand authenticity, respect for their time and products built just for them. They are in their early 20s, new to us and have changed every category they have touched so far. It's the most diverse generation ever seen."
About 63 million Gen Yers will reach driving age by 2010, and 15% of these-Scion's real target-are influential trend-setters, Toyota says. To speak their language, Scion is using non-traditional methods.
Examples: Scion ads appear in arty, little known publications like Juxtapoz, XLR8R, Scratch, Complex, Vapors and Beautiful Decay. Think urban, local hip-hop acts and detached cool rather than suburb sophisticate.
"The learning for us has been the added benefit we've had from including lifestyle publications, not just in terms of media buys but also in providing them with interesting stories to cover in editorial," says Brian Bolain, Scion national sales promotions manager. "This has put Scion in front of people who might not have otherwise read about an automotive brand."
Mr. Farley, who was Toyota's national truck advertising manager before moving to Lexus product planning and advertising, says he finds Scion marketing more "challenging, creative and rewarding." Getting products into offbeat titles and venues has "created a community of advocates who are spreading the word about Scion," he says.
"I always struggled with the feeling that our marketing dollars could have been used in different ways," he adds. "Scion's type of advertising is so targeted and focused. The feedback is immediate-good or bad, yet it's more challenging to measure via statistics. It's great to see creativity and practicality take the place of a spreadsheet."
Scion is trying to adopt a youthful approach to marketing, says Gary Stein, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, San Francisco, but, as often happens, actual purchasers trend older. "By refocusing these efforts by shifting their media dollars to non-traditional [avenues, it] shows they're looking to get deeper into the youth market," he says.
Still, older folks are buying the vehicles, known for their style, fuel economy and affordability. Prices range from $12,995 to $16,495, reflecting a slight increase for 2005.
won't turn away older buyers
Scion won't turn away older buyers. "The media plan will help keep the brand rooted with that [young] demographic, but the message still spills over to others who want to associate with that age group," Mr. Stein says.
The brand won't be seen rubbing fenders with the high and mighty. It favors Gen Y hangouts like cool nightclubs (50 in its launch year), art exhibits, local hip-hop or electronica concerts, aftermarket shows, urban pubs and library lawns.
"You won't see us on `Oprah.' The backbone of Scion marketing will still be more guerrilla, with a music, art and urban focus. We have to be true to that consumer. That's a line we don't want to cross," says Dawn Ahmed, Scion national advertising manager. "Scion has been on `The Simpsons,' and, yes, Fox is considered a network, but that's as close as we want to get. We're not connecting the dots to say the next step is a major network buy."
The 2005 media plan will continue to build awareness, Ms. Ahmed says. In the second quarter, a new ad campaign will focus on owners personalizing their Scions. More consumer test drives in settings like military bases also are on tap, plus dealer events including guerrilla appearances of the Scion in big cities and local music gigs.
Like so many youth-focused brands, Scion counts on word-of-mouth to spread the news. An easily navigated Web site helps connect owners and resources.
"Depending how you define it," Mr. Farley says, "non-traditional is here to stay. Why? Because for a niche brand like Scion, we cannot be heard or begin to build a community any other way."
IN MOM'S DRIVEWAY
Here's a clear sign that Scion is aimed at young drivers-most buyers still live at home with their parents. Scion customers by the numbers:
52% of Scion buyers are male.
48% spend $1,000-$3,000 to customize their Scion.
34 is the median age of a Scion buyer.
25% pay cash for their Scion.
5% lease their Scion.
Source: Toyota Motor Sales USA