Toyota Motor Co. has been seeking "underground hip-hoppers" to spread the word for its entry-level sub-brand Scion. Struggling luxury marque Jaguar, meanwhile, is looking to lure another kind of influencer, the 30-something "cultural mavens" with a lifestyle PR blitz.
"Our major tactic is to create positive awareness word of mouth about the brand," said James Thomas, communications director of Jaguar Cars North America, a unit of Ford Motor Co., which saw its sales slide 25% through April compared to last year. The automaker wants to get the word out to young creative professionals in fashion, film, architecture, graphic arts and music that Jaguar is a desirable brand.
Antenna, Los Angeles, developed the multifaceted effort, which expands an under-the-radar 2004 program that was limited to sponsoring Zero Seven's concert tour with post-VIP parties for prospects. Last year's tour only promoted the X-Type sedan, while this year the focus is on the Jaguar brand.
Music is again an element in this year's push, but invitation-only events without music have been added to the mix along with two test-drive programs. This summer, during the Hamptons' Scope Art Fair, Jaguar will team with Fairchild Publications' W to invite nearly 1,000 prospects for a special event. In the last week of April, Jaguar and DKNY Jeans were in Palm Springs, Calif., to sponsor two days of events tied to the Coachella festival-a VIP reception that included Nicole Richie and a pre-show pool party.
"This is all very high-end," said Chris Stephenson, CEO of Antenna. "We see a lot of auto brands getting involved in lifestyle marketing, but more often than not, it's somebody else's property and they don't get the same brand language," he said. "What we create for Jaguar is all original."
Wes Brown, an analyst at auto consulting company Iceology, said Jaguar is doing the right thing to maintain and increase brand awareness with younger influencers. "If you can get an influencer to be an advocate for your brand the chances of them convincing other people to buy your brand are high."
Influencers can indeed be a force. A small survey of 700 U.S. consumers by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in 2003 revealed that 71% cited word-of-mouth as the primary influencer in their car-buying decisions.
The effort comes as Jaguar is drowning in red ink and struggling with declining U.S. vehicle sales. Ford Motor reported last week Jaguar's 2005 sales through April slid to 11,577 units, or by 24.5% vs. the same period a year ago.
Mr. Thomas declined to disclose spending for the push, saying only "it's a very good value when you compare it to advertising." Jaguar spent $89 million in measured media last year in the U.S., according to TNS Media Intelligence.
The marketer will send an e-mail blast to prospects this week directing them to jaguar2005.com. There, they can hear select songs from an exclusive two-CD set from up-and-coming artists. The entire set, compiled by DJ Jason Bentley of public radio's KCRW, Los Angeles, can be had for opting in online for a test drive at a dealership.
Visitors to the site can also sign up to test drive current Jag models on racetracks as part of the brand's vintage racing series that visits seven states through November, or opt in to receive the brand's online newsletter.