Cross-Media Case Study: Culture Club

Toyota's Yaris campaign incorporates gaming, wireless mobisodes, and music to bond with its young target

Yaris is your new friend on MySpace, your guide on a digital tour of Los Angeles, and your blogger extraordinaire during the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival. Toyota's Yaris is as into video games as its consumer target audience, shows up at the biggest conferences, hosts game design contests, and makes sly references to retro games in ads. And the brand wants to share cool new music on its microsite.

The ad campaign for the Toyota Yaris, a subcompact sedan introduced in the United States this year, attempts to brand the car with a hip, cheeky personality, emphasize its design and affordability, and make it relevant in the lives of young adults. To do so, Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles decided to leverage the sense of community that young adults seek online.

"We were able to study not just the media they use, but how they use it, when they use it, and what the benefit is to them," says John Lisko, director of strategic communications for Saatchi. "They're not just consumers of mass media. What they use, they tend to go [into] very deeply."

Instead of just setting up a Web page, Saatchi developed features to reach young people all over the Web, on their wireless phones, and in video games, tapping into their desire to engage with media and to find others with similar tastes.

It seems to be working. Yaris has more than 50,000 friends on MySpace. "Prison Break: Proof of Innocence" mobisodes with Yaris trailers were streamed nearly 320,000 times in the first five weeks of the campaign. Home page takeovers on Yahoo and msn drove 750,000 visitors to in a single day.

And two months after the campaign launch, Lisko says, Yaris had 24.4 percent market share in its category.

Networked Target

First, Saatchi defined the target: not just any 18- to 34-year-old, but "upbeat indie" types. They're concerned about the environment, but they're not tree-huggers. They seek out new music. They're not cynical. Young men in this segment spend about 20 percent more time each week playing video games than they do watching television, according to a Yankee Group report. And they know when someone's trying to sell them something.

"You can't be all 'super-transparent marketing company,' " says Peter Kang, director of interactive and emerging technology at Saatchi. "You have to be real about it so they actually absorb the media and don't reject it."

The campaign began with print and television in February and followed quickly with new media elements designed to be engaging and useful to the target demographic. The MySpace page and the multifaceted SXSW blog were up by early March. April saw trailers on "Prison Break" mobisodes that evoked the 1980s video game "Spy vs. Spy." (The mobisodes and trailers are now available on both the Fox and Toyota sites.) Gaming tie-ins and online contests run throughout the summer.

"One thing I thought was really cool: They're taking a car and making it very connected to media in general," says Emily Riley, an online advertising analyst with JupiterResearch. By establishing the campaign on new and emerging media platforms and playing up the car's mp3 compatibility, Yaris appeared to be in tune with its youth target.

Along the same lines, the Yaris SXSW site provided previews and reviews of shows, customizable maps of festival site Austin, Texas, music and video downloads, and a blog. The MySpace page gives users the chance to create contact tables sponsored by Yaris and to visit Toyota's site for more information.

"We had some pretty significant numbers  double-digit click-throughs to with qualified traffic," Lisko says.

The Yaris microsite provides more reasons to spend time with the brand: music downloads, virtual tours in a Yaris of hot neighborhoods in Austin and Los Angeles, buddy icons, and screensavers.

"The goal was to provide consumers with a virtual test drive to some of the coolest streets of major U.S. cities, calling out upbeat indie venues along the way," says Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight. Consumers can interact with vehicle demonstrations, download tracks from local artists, and get guides to cool spots in every city. Toyota dedicated 12 percent of the Yaris media buy to interactive media.

"I think it's smart, but with any concept like this, in order for it to be beyond successful, you've got to put in a lot of time building the content," says Jakob Daschek, creative director of Syrup, a branding and interactive firm in New York. "Every time I go on there, there's got to be something new."

Saatchi will be studying "how people are converging on the site: Are they building their own vehicles, requesting more information?" Lisko says. 

Gamers Wanted

The campaign also seeks to establish Yaris in the gaming community  an arena with plenty of room for innovation but little room for interruptive marketing. Young men spend 12.5 hours a week gaming, according to Yankee Group. Plus, the audience is broadening considerably: The average age of console gamers is 26, and about 32 percent are women.

The Yaris gaming endeavor includes offline programs, such as sponsorship of the major tournament Evolution Fighting Game Championship and placements at gaming industry conferences.

Online, banner ads and the mobisode trailers also employ the visual language of video games. And in what may be a first, a banner ad includes a real-time, multiplayer driving game; players on different sites can compete with one another in the ad. And a Yaris driving game for the Xbox Live Arcade will be available this summer for download to Xbox video game consoles.

"I didn't want to do anything unless we got really super-deep," says Kang. "To show people that not only do we understand the space completely, but we're doing things probably no one has ever done before."

This strategy puts Toyota in a gaming-savvy class of advertisers, says Shar VanBoskirk, senior analyst for Forrester Research and author of the recent report "Why Game Marketing Matters." "Today, where most people are kind of ignoring ads, games provide a very engaging medium," VanBoskirk says.

Digital Culture

By using online and other media to tap into "upbeat indie" culture, Saatchi "incorporates Yaris into the fabric of the target's everyday life," Lisko says. "These programs all allow the target to dive much deeper than traditional media," he says.

There is room for improvement. Riley says the digital city tours on the microsite aren't comprehensive enough, and could have been bolstered by geo-targeting, something Lisko says Saatchi is considering. Daschek says the look and feel of the microsite seems disconnected from the rest of the campaign.

But by experimenting with so many media in an attempt to engage the demographic, Toyota sends a message about the car and the company, says Riley, the Jupiter analyst. "[The campaign says,] 'We want to be known as the savvy multimedia user,' " Riley says. "If you're an advertiser in that space, it's important that your brand is considered to be cutting-edge."

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