Those programs, involving branded Scion venues, virtual cars, and social networking, are a big part of Scion's marketing, since the Toyota division's target is GenY.
Now, the automaker is letting denizens of Makena Technologies' There.com modify not only virtual Scion cars, but also an in-world venue called Club Scion. The virtual club is a three-tower building that replicates, on a large scale, Scion's xA, xB and tC car models. The Club doubles as a vehicle tour and venue. Members of the club can socialize around music and virtual dance floors, seating, hot tubs and transparent walkways and ladders.
The extension of the club lets consumers create designs for the outside of Club Scion, and submit them to There.com, where they become the look of the club's exterior. The designs will be rotated on a regular basis.
In There.com, which attracts 13- to-24-year-old users, consumers will also be able to create, buy and sell their own versions of drivable, branded Scion cars, which were designed for the program by game developer Trilogy Studios. The cars can be personalized and raced in the virtual landscape.
Adrian Si, Scion interactive marketing manager for the Toyota division, says such programs require a different perspective on metrics. "In this space I believe you need to be non-traditional in how you consider ROI and measure it. Virtual worlds are still developing from a variety of aspects, so traditional ROI measurements don't really apply," he says. "Right now we're looking at buzz, verbatims and the amount of engaged users who like to throw parties and hang out in our space."
Scion's other recent Web efforts include a program with Technorati that involved a Scion desktop widget that piped in real-time headlines from independent-film blogs, per Si. "Rather than extol the vehicle's features, we ran the widgets as ad units on a couple of sites, but also offered them as content via Technorati," he says.
In Second Life, Scion has its own island called Scion City, where residents can get cars and customize them. In Gaia.com, Scion has Scion Garage, at which members can customize Scion cars and enter them in races, shows, and other events.
Si says that on Whyville--the first virtual world Scion engaged, and a virtual world appealing to pre-teens--users can learn about how cars operate with the track-car design game; about safety; and the carpool lane; race their cars; and purchase the xB, xD or tC with "clams," Whyville's virtual currency. He says that Scion vehicles are the only form of transportation in-world, besides the bus.
"In addition, we have Scion Solutions which offers financing for these vehicles allowing for users to learn about credit," he says. "Drivers can chat with their friends in the car. We've also got the 'Whipcar,' which users can rent to get around town."
In Second Life, residents can learn about the Scion brand and the cars, and purchase the xB, xD and tC in Scion City.
"Youth trendsetters are spending a lot of time online and within various community sites," says Si. "We're involved in the virtual communities that are small, emerging and creative. Scion can interact with them in an environment in which they are very comfortable and provide them with something that benefits them and they can personalize. If they come away with a positive experience, that's the most for which we can ask."
Sharon Lee, CEO of L.A.-based youth-market consultancy Look-Look, says the strategy makes sense because virtual worlds are targeted, fun, and engage consumers who are there because they want to be.
"Virtual worlds do matter, and they will become more mainstream, and the whole category is growing," she says. She argues that a whole generation is growing up engaged in 3D Web environments, whether video games, virtual worlds, or consumer-marketing ventures like General Mills' kid-centric Millsberry.com, or MTV's seven or so virtual worlds depicting L.A. spots, like "Laguna Beach," and "The Virtual Hills."
"No, it's not going to be 'six months before you make a car purchase'-type marketing--it's harder to measure from an ROI point of view than avenues that measure intent to purchase," she says. "It's a totally different form of marketing. But if you look at TV impressions and exposure rates, young people are increasingly 'TiVo-ing' ads, and where they are going are areas of relevant play."