Toyota's Scion Goes After Teens In Gaia

Scion, Toyota's division aimed at younger buyers, has expanded its presence in virtual reality through a partnership with 4-year-old Gaia Online, a Web-based virtual world for teens.

Scion will offer Gaia members virtual versions of Scion cars, that they can "buy" with Gaia Gold, a virtual currency, and customize.

As part of the program, Gaia members can go to a Scion Garage in the Gaia world, customize the cars with virtual wheels, decals, fog lights, and other after-market accessories, including things like wings and earrings, and then "buy" the cars with Gaia Gold, a virtual currency. They can then compete with their cars in race, shows, and other events.

Gaia says it is the fastest-growing social networking site for teens, and claims 2 million visits per month. The San Jose-based company says people spend two hours on average at the site. Like Second Life, another virtual world online, members choose avatars and homes.

Adrian Si, Scion interactive marketing manager, says Scion will roll out a multi-phased program with Gaia, with more programs for other Scion vehicles this year, and that Scion has a similar deal with another virtual world, though he wouldn't say which one.



Scion began immersing its brand in virtual worlds last year--first in kids' site Whyville, and later in Second Life.

"It isn't so much that we want to have virtual versions of the cars, but that we want to have influencers interact with the brand," he says. "Virtual communities are what's next in 3-D Internet. So it's great for us."

When the company unveiled its redesigned xB car at the Chicago auto show this year, it ran a parallel press conference simulcast in Second Life, including an avatar version of Scion marketing chief Mark Templin.

Si, who explains that Whyville members are 'tweens between 8 and 14, Gaians are in their late teens and 20's, and Second Lifers are in their 30's, said Scion's message isn't wasted on youth too young to drive.

"Research shows that kids as young as young as 8 are already thinking about cars," Si says, noting that Scion does no explicit advertising within or without virtual online worlds.

Rather, word is spread via billboards and email, or community announcements. A top-down view of Gaia shows the Scion Garage. He explains that the kinds of customized parts and accessories Scion offers in its garage reflects feedback from community members.

ROI isn't measured in dealer referrals. "In the virtual community you have to think of engagement, not sales. If they buy a virtual car, they are engaging with the brand; the second thing is that, to a certain degree, you can track quantitative results: you can see how many people visited, how many people customized and bought vehicles, and you can track what people are saying about the brand."

On Second Life, Scion ranked second out of 21 companies because of members' ability to trick out their digital cars, he said.

A new study from Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions and Starcom MediaVest defined a 17- to-35-year-old "Ad Avoider" demographic and said the way to reach them is to create the space to make a brand "their own"--to shape it, own it, and personalize it.

Scion is a client of Millions of Us, a media agency specializing in virtual worlds, which yesterday announced its own partnership with Gaia. Other Millions of Us clients who could show up in Gaia as a result, include Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Comcast, Electrolux and Microsoft.

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