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Scion Reaches Beyond Youth With Help From Greek God Zeus

With Younger Drivers Squeezed by Economy, Toyota Launches TV, Video Push From Attik Aimed at Slightly Older Buyers

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Scion isn't mainly for young drivers anymore.

When Toyota introduced its sub-brand in 2000, it was touted as a car for first-time buyers aged 18 to 24, and over the years has used its own record label, ties to film, guerrilla marketing and even forehead ads to reach its youthful target .

But the credit crunch and scarcer jobs among its core demographic are leading to a tougher sales challenge -- Scion sales peaked in 2006, when 173,000 cars were sold and dropped to 45,000 last year, according to Automotive News. So the automaker is launching a TV and video push aimed at broadening its target market to 18- to 34-year-olds featuring a rather unlikely spokesman -- the Greek god Zeus -- for its tC model, which accounts for roughly half of its total sales.

In commercials, which break June 27 from agency Attik, "Zeus" is seen fraternizing with mortals. Attik has also created video vignettes from outtakes it hopes will go viral from the commercial's filming for the limited-edition tC Release Series vehicle, due in July. The video will be posted on the Scion website later today and on YouTube and forwarded to bloggers.

The goal is to generate buzz for the ad through the outtakes before it appears. "We're advertising the car in a way we've never done before," said Owen Peacock, national marketing-communications manager for Scion, who would not discuss budgets other than to say the video "allows us the freedom to distribute more creative content" than it would cost to purchase time on broadcast stations.

The Scion brand was supported with $20 million in measured media last year, according to Kantar Media, compared to $888 million for Toyota and $211 million for Lexus during that time.

Mr. Peacock said Zeus, the God of thunder and lightning, embodied the car's "high-voltage" color, playing along with the idea that "no mere human mortal could have made this car," he said. The outtakes, which run about 60 seconds, are called "On the set with Zeus." They portray a cocky Zeus stuck in modern times shown trying to woo the woman who appears with him in the commercial, asking her to write her phone number on parchment paper, poking fun at "Greek yogurt" and discussing the time share he bought on Mount Olympus.

The bright-yellow car serves as the backdrop in some of the spots. "There will really be a fun tone to this campaign," Mr. Peacock said. He said the agency focused on a comedic approach because of research that indicates there's more interest in sharing humorous information. The hope is that the video will spark people to share it before the spot breaks. "You can't downplay how important that is ," he said.

Scion's had a history of cutting-edge marketing, and it's in dire need of a winning strategy, as the initial appeal of the boxy car has faded, said Rick Mathieson, who runs a marketing consulting firm and wrote about Scion in his book, "The On Demand Brand." He said portraying Scion as a car of the gods and using Zeus is a creative idea was a good way to appeal to the demographic. But he cautioned that even the most clever campaign could fail. "Viral is not a strategy -- it's an outcome," so to the extent the spots are promoted, "it could be spectacularly successful or completely ignorable."

Paul Seredynski, senior editor of Edmunds Auto Observer, said Scion has raised to an art form marketing "to the generation that doesn't want to be marketed to." While he generally finds the company's marketing efforts impressive, he said viral marketing hasn't successfully translated to sales among Scion's younger buyers. And no matter how dazzling the approach, it will be difficult to confront the obstacles that Scion has faced, where smaller sales volume have made it a lower priority brand. This, combined with Toyota's recalls and complications from the earthquake, have all served to weigh heavy on the brand.

But Mr. Peacock is optimistic that the campaign will move the dial on sales. "If this one goes off well, I can see us taking this approach again," he said.

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