$10 million: Toyota seeks shop for viral effort

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Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division is talking to three ad agencies for an estimated $10 million viral-marketing effort to lure young men to its brand.

While Toyota's sales are on the rise, it's still not top-of-mind with younger car buyers. "We want to see if we can get new ideas under the radar screen" to reach men between the ages of 24 and 30, said Deborah Wahl Meyer, corporate communications marketing manager. The models covered in the pitch are the upcoming performance Corolla XRS, Matrix XRS and Tacoma. Toyota launches the next generation Tacoma compact pickup this fall.

The automaker is contacting shops that have ties with Publicis Groupe: Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Torrance, Calif., the brand's national creative shop; Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco; and independent Ground Zero, Marina del Rey, Calif., partnered with Dentsu, which owns 18% of Publicis. The competition pits Riney's Kirk Souder, president-CEO and creative director, against his ex-partners at Ground Zero, a shop he co-founded.

Toyota went outside Saatchi to launch its youth-targeted Scion sub-brand in California last year. Independent Attik, San Francisco, is also handling the mostly nontraditional national rollout of Scion this year. Toyota was unsuccessful with its first attempt to woo young buyers with its Echo subcompact a few years ago and reported it sold just 1,338 of the small cars in the first quarter of 2004, or 86% fewer than a year ago.

Wes Brown, analyst with consultancy Iceology, said young buyers generally don't aspire to Toyota, which they associate with older consumers and more conservative styling. The marketer "wants to create some buzz" and let young men know it has models in its lineup for them, he said.

Dan Gorrell, VP of auto consultancy Strategic Vision, said the median age of Camry buyers was 54 in 2003 and 47 for Corolla. But the carmaker seems to be successfully reaching younger buyers with its Corolla S model, a sportier model with a spoiler.

The brand keeps increasing its vehicle sales in today's hotly competitive market. Toyota said last week it sold 399,329 units in the first quarter of 2004, a 10% jump from a year ago. But Corolla sales were off by 2.4% to 75,125 units vs. 2003.

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