Cross-Media Case Study: Building a Better Base
Henry Ford was famous for saying you could have the Model T in any color you wanted, so long as it was black. Toyota's Scion brand may go down in the history books for saying something more like: Any color you want, so long as you order it online.
Scion has only been around for three years, but in that time it's rewritten the rules on how cars are marketed and sold. Unlike just about any other automaker, Scion is all about directing buyers, the majority of whom are young males, to its Web site, which serves as a gateway to the brand. The site is full of choices, without the hard sell that can take place on a dealer's lot.
It's true that all auto brands have Web sites, but for Scion, online actually takes precedence over what happens at the dealership. The process of choosing colors, accessories, and models takes place at scion.com, as does learning about pricing, financing, and warranties. The site has to be as cool as it is functional, and the marketing strategy is designed to make would-be Scion owners feel as though they discovered the brand on their own.
Scion's initial campaign, "Scion Buy," strove to establish personal relationships with potential buyers, according to Adrian Si, Scion's interactive marketing manager. "The idea was to portray different people with different backgrounds and how they represented Scion owners," Si says.
The campaign, "What Moves You," launched in mid-2005. It's all about personalization, Si says. "It's no longer about other people but about you. What would you do if you had a Scion?"
To get the word out, Scion's marketing team used some print, broadcast, and online media, but the real bump in consumer interest came from using nontraditional approaches, including a "Ride and Drive" campaign that combined music and other events with test drives far from any dealership. Guerrilla and viral marketing initiatives spread the word among peer groups, as did online promotions and wild postings in urban areas.
"At the end of the day, all of that goes to drive people to scion.com," Si says. "The logo [with the URL] is at the bottom of print ads, on billboards, in radio spots... everything drives it to scion.com. The demographic we're after is very tech- and Internet-savvy, so it makes sense for them to go to that one location." That marketing, Si says, reflects the Scion philosophy of making buyers feel like they're in control. Since research indicates that younger buyers don't respond to the traditional model of car marketing and purchasing, it was the marketing team's job to find another way.
"This is a 'not marketing in your face' strategy, almost going underground, and it's been quite effective," says Joe Langley, an auto industry analyst at CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich. "It's done better than people initially expected when they debuted the brand, marketing the cars before they even went on sale." Scion sold 99,259 vehicles in 2004 and was on track to surpass its goal of 100,000 in 2005. "By all measures, this is pretty successful," Langley says.
Another measure of success, he says, is that rivals are emulating the Scion approach. "We'll definitely see more of this in the future, especially in that size segment," Langley says. "We'll see it with Nissan's smaller car, the Versa. Ford is getting into the act, and Honda is going to introduce a vehicle below the Civic."
Honda has already taken a page or two from the Scion playbook. "A month before it launched the new Civic, Honda took it on tour doing sneak previews in big cities in a concert-type atmosphere," Langley says. "It catches people off guard...there it is and people are taking digital photos of it, putting them online like they scooped it. It's a pretty effective way to get the youth market."
That savvy soft sell is key, Langley says, to circumventing younger buyers' inherent mistrust of traditional marketing. "They're so bombarded with information, and it's harder and harder to get the sell. You have to stand back, not be forceful, and sell the lifestyle."
The "What Moves You" campaign is all about letting Scion buyers "build" a vehicle online according to their own preferences. Led by ATTIK, a San Francisco-based agency specializing in youth marketing, the Scion team also includes DCA Advertising in New York and a host of smaller agencies. David Murphy, senior account manager at ATTIK, says his agency's role includes handling all the ads and creative assets, as well as developing the brand guidelines. "We're the brand guardians, so we handle the look and feel of the brand across all media," Murphy says. That can be as mundane as font management and exciting as launching new campaigns like "What Moves You."
This Scion's for You
Apart from nontraditional media, the "What Moves You" campaign deployed a series of 30-second broadcast spots that ran on TV and in theaters. Produced by ATTIK, the spots showed real Scion owners talking about their cars and how they'd customized them. The spots drove viewers to scion.com, where potential buyers encountered a state-of-the-art "configurator" to build their dream car.
The personalization message crosses all marketing disciplines, Si says, from advertising and interactive to events and promotions. "With most car brands, you're offered several packages, but typically you take what they have on the lot or you wait a long time," he says. "For Scion, there are no packages; it's all about accessories."
At scion.com, the flashy yet functional site allows prospective buyers to personalize their vehicle, but it also serves as a clearinghouse of information about the steps needed to buy a car -- all under the assumption that for many Scion customers, this will be their first new car purchase.
But the site goes beyond purchasing in an attempt to cultivate and perpetuate a culture of Scion owners tuned in to the brand. Events are posted, as well as links to sites like scionlife.com and scionjunky.com. Chat rooms are filled with enthusiastic postings like this one: "Just picked up my new tC last night and I looooooooooooove it!!! Got the iPod and 10" subwoofer upgraded stereo and it sounds freakin' sweet." Or this one: "Just got mine about 3 weeks ago and I love it too. I have a big moonroof I had installed!! Mine's polar white with tinted windows and I love the strange looks I get in the car!!!"
"Fun is a big part of it," Si says. "Functionality is a big part of the site, but it also reflects that we're about more than just selling cars. We support the owners by providing links to local clubs, setting up owner events, things like that. We're stretching what we do online in a way that other auto companies are not yet doing."
Still, copycats haven't escaped the Scion team's notice. He won't name names, but Si says that one brand recently launched a new vehicle supported by a site bearing a striking resemblance to scion.com. "It's amazing how many things they're doing that we started," Si says. "But if they're copying us, they feel like there's a good success factor, and it's just reinforcement that we're doing the right thing."