Scion's Murtha: Focus Shifts But Not Identity

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Scion, the Toyota division stocked with vehicles meant to swerve from a mass-market audience and appeal as well to a younger prospect, has evolved. Advertising had, until pretty recently, been as off-beat as the brand's vehicles. Now the creative and integrated marketing strategy is more about people -- artists, entrepreneurs, and creative people of all kinds -- whose pursuits evince the Scion brand. 

The latest program, "Make Every Second Count," by long-time AOR Attik, features young culinary, promotional, retail and design entrepreneurs documenting their daily lives with the brand. Scion VP Doug Murtha talks to Marketing Daily about how -- and why -- Scion's message has evolved.

Q: Tell me about how creative and marketing has changed for the brand.

A: I would say that's less a function of a change in strategic direction and more a response to the market around us. When you rewind to our launch in 2003, you had a lot of folks who came of age in the ’90's. They were pretty carefree; they had either means themselves or access to means through their parents. And their situation allowed for rebelliousness -- they just had more opportunities. Fast-forward to 2013 and about 60% of that under-35-year-old population we are targeting has changed. These folks are a lot more pragmatic; they are a lot more resourceful. They are still expressive but not in the same way they were five, ten years ago. We honestly we have had to adjust our message a little bit to resonate. 

Q: So it's a completely new generation you are talking to now? 

A: There is still a 40% holdover from the folks we were after at our launch. But, by and large, even those folks experienced 2008 and watched their parents' home values go down, and lose their jobs. There has been a fair mind-shift with them as well. 

Q: Has Scion built loyalty to Scion, or to Toyota, which I think was the original purpose of Scion?

A: Objective number one was to bring someone into the Toyota family who would not have otherwise considered us. Seventy-five percent of our buyers had no Lexus or Toyota experience at all. Now, obviously, the key is keeping them in the fold -- finding a way to put them in another car. And we had wanted move a lot of people up to the Toyota brand and potentially Lexus. While we are obviously happy keeping them in Scion, too, the balance of that has stayed a little more Scion than we thought. That we have seen a bit more people staying in the Scion fold we like to think is a tribute to the Scion brand proposition in addition to the product lineup, so we don't consider that a "failure" although it's definitely different than our initial target. 

Q: From the other perspective, are you worried at all worried about Scion veering toward Toyota's territory?

A: I think there's still something unique enough about the products we are bringing to market that it isn't going to pull the average buyer away from a Corolla. Conversely, I think there is still enough of a disincentive [for Toyota owners to move to Scion]; there are 300,000 Corollas on the road. So both from the perspective of people interested in what Scion has to offer and the types of products Scion has, we are still staking a different claim. That said, we need to continue to monitor that, because if we do start to converge the reason for our existence starts to erode a bit. 

Q: Scion campaigns used to be very stealth, very "under the radar." That's changed.

A: We had just come to the conclusion that you can still be distinct as a brand but, at the end of the day, you need to build some sort of awareness, and quite frankly we weren't happy with those numbers among our target audience. That resulted in some fine tuning of our ad mix. The launch of  FR-S last year gave us great tailwind out of media attention, but we'd still like to build awareness more than where we are today. 

Q: is there room for event or sports sponsorship activity for Scion?

A: It's a very saturated market for autos. And the price of entry is high. Also I don't think, from a brand alignment perspective, it's who we are. Really, it's a constant struggle to avoid drifting toward the mainstream.

Tags: automotive, q&a
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