Automakers mix it up chasing young buyers

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Carmakers are getting more sophisticated in their attempts to reach the elusive youth market, using music, reality TV and race cars to lure Gen Y online and into events.

Industry veteran Charlie Hughes, now president of consultancy Brand Rules, said the automakers are trying to get their brands out there in cool ways so young people will consider the brands as they approach their key car-buying years. "It's like a game of chess. If your competition does it you feel like you have to jump into it too."

Audi of America, American Honda Motor Co. and Kia Motors each are using concert tours. BMW of North America is reaching out to go-kart racers as young as 15 through a Formula One racing school, and Ford Motor Co. is finding its "American Idol" sponsorship a key way to reach this group.

rock appeal

Audi, presenting sponsor of David Bowie's North American "Reality Tour," kicked off an online contest earlier this month at Visitors are asked to "mash-up" two of the rock legend's songs into one to win an Audi TT coupe. Voting started April 16, with three weekly winners until May 27. Winners must be at least 13 years old.

Mr. Bowie's ties to the Volkswagen of America brand include a remix of his classic "Rebel Rebel" with his new "Never Get Old" in a current Audi brand TV spot by Havas' McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C. The target for the contest skews to 20-something consumers, younger than Audi's traditional audience in their late 30s to early 50s, said Maria Nahigian, marketing events manager at the carmaker. The goal of the program is to build brand awareness and "bring Audi to a whole new generation."

Honda's Civic Tour starts its fourth year May 13 in Portland, Maine, this time with the band Dashboard Confessional. New this year, said Tom Peyton, senior manager of national advertising at Honda: The automaker will pay for the first 100,000 downloads at of one of the band's songs sung live from three concerts on the 38-stop tour. The tour has helped Honda reach out to 18-to-34-year-old consumers, although he said this year's band will probably reach a core tour target of 15-to-25-year-olds.

Kia's partnership with Sugar Ray goes beyond sponsoring the band's 18-market "Make Every Mile Count" tour, named after the automaker's ad tag and tied to the launch of its 2004 Spectra small car line. A six-episode reality TV series will be filmed during Sugar Ray's tour, tracking eight young contestants interacting with the band and vying for a job at a record label. The TV show is set to air on Spike TV in June and July, and has its own Web site,

"This program allows us to expose our new Kia Spectra to the vehicle's target audience in a way they wouldn't otherwise experience," said Peter Butterfield, president-CEO of the automaker.

Ford has found its own reality success with "American Idol." Ford's Rich Stoddart, marketing communications manager of Ford Division, called the 250,000 votes made in the first of three rounds of its online promotion "stunning." Visitors to or can vote for their favorite music video created by consumers. The winner gets a trip to Los Angeles for an appearance on the show and a 2005 Ford Focus ST.

BMW is reaching out to the teens-to-20s with a student portion of its Ultimate Driving Experience tour. "A lot of car companies are courting baby boomers. We are courting teenagers," said Jim McDowell, VP-marketing at BMW. "BMW is the premier brand for youth, so we have a reason to work harder with the next generation."

That's one reason BMW is importing from its European parent a motorsports-training program for young drivers, some too young to have licenses. The Formula BMW USA offers go-kart drivers, between the ages of 15 and 23, scholarships, training and actual race experience to help develop their careers.

"We are using this as a feeder program" hopefully to groom the first Formula One American driver since Mario Andretti, said Alex Schmuck, program manager at BMW. "It helps us connect with young drivers and young fans will connect more with the young drivers."

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