By Zeus! Now, Scion Pursues Thirty-Somethings

By Dale Buss July 12, 2011

Scion Tc RS 7 point 0.jpg

The economic woes of America’s twenty-somethings have forced Scion to broaden its demographic target to include the rest of the Millennial generation, up to age 35. “It’s a function of affordability and the state of economics for 18- to 24-year-olds, with high unemployment,” said Owen Peacock, national marketing communications manager for Scion. “They’re focused on things like college and debt load. At the end of the day, do you go with a small target or go after those who can actually buy a car now? So you need to adjust.”

The change is just one among a number that are reflected in a new Scion advertising campaign for the tC, its highest-volume model, that “stars” the Greek god Zeus in a series of humorous videos. The effort is also Scion’s first marketing push to focus on a special-edition car, its most extensive use of humor in a broad advertising effort, and its richest use of video elements on social media. It’s a time of vast recalibration for Scion overall. Sales were up 28 percent for the brand for the first half of the year compared with a year earlier, even despite a messed-up supply chain because of the natural disaster in Japan in March. And just as Toyota planned when it launched Scion as a separate brand in 2000, it enjoys the industry’s strongest regard with young consumers, according to recent surveys, along with Mitsubishi and Mazda.

Scion Zeus ads.jpgClassic Figure
But Scion never has reached Toyota’s initial expectations, as sales tailed off to only 46,000 last year after peaking at 173,000 in 2006, in large part due to how hard the Great Recession hit young buyers. Moreover, Scion’s quirky models, especially in their second generations, haven’t been able to distance themselves enough from the competition. One chicken-or-egg problem has been Toyota’s lack of marketing conviction behind Scion: It spent only $20 million in measured media last year on Scion compared with $888 million on Toyota and $211 million on Lexus, according to Advertising Age; that amounted to only about $438 per Scion unit sold in 2010 compared with $597 per Toyota and $920 per Lexus. As a result, neither has Scion become a particularly effective feeder for the Toyota brand that is favored by baby boomers.

Scion’s Zeus campaign is aimed nominally at bolstering tC, a coupe that is by far Scion’s highest-volume model these days. Perhaps part of the thinking was that older Millennials may have been fortunate enough actually to learn about Greek mythology in a U.S. education system that has been getting away from teaching classicism. Only mildly humorous, the online-only ads, titled “On the Set with Zeus,” depict a Greek king of deities who is helpless, even in his omnipotence, to figure out a coffee maker or to woo a human actress, even while he makes fun of “Greek yogurt” and brags about his “timeshare” on Mount Olympus.

The ad that also recently began appearing on TV, on young-skewing cable-TV networks such as Comedy Central and Spike, is the one that most highlights Scion tC, in a “high-voltage” bright yellow model “created” by Zeus. Scion is selling only 2,200 of this 2012 tC Release Series 7.0 (top), each also featuring contrasting black sideview mirrors, a customized body kit by Total Racing Development (TRD), push-button ignition for the first time in any Scion vehicle, glossy black-alloy rims and other design accents “inspired” by Zeus. There’s also an original interactive game built around the “halo” model that has debuted with the new iPad edition of The Onion.

071211 Scion Sales - AO.jpgCaring Is Sharing
“Usually we might do online flyers and handouts at auto shows when we’re introducing a halo version,” Peacock said. “Until now, we’ve never even featured one in a billboard. But we wanted to try something new. Also, the car has a beautiful yellow color, and it really pops. It has a really good package, so we figured, ‘Why don’t we just put this up there and make it the centerpiece of a campaign and see what we’ve got?’”

In the past, Scion has appealed to its really young demographic with marketing stunts such as forehead ads and even its own record label. Now, such guerrilla tactics have become more mainstream, and social-media innovations have narrowed the gap between Scion and other brands in terms of marketing risk-taking. Perhaps surprisingly, never before had Scion plunged into a pitch based as much on humor as the Zeus campaign, Peacock said. Yet part of the reason it has done so now is social media. “As you look at sharing and ‘liking’ content, people do that more often with humorous than with ‘cool’ content,” he said. “We figured this could serve about 10 different masters. There’s more shareability potential than before.”

The Zeus campaign provides an interesting contrast with Ford’s recent online-only video series featuring “Focus Doug.” While the cocky Zeus character is a cad with women and weirdly attired, just like Ford’s orange hand puppet, Doug’s humor is sharper – and the Ford online-only campaign does far more to promote the actual vehicle and its features. In most of the Zeus spots, for instance, tC barely shows up – there is far more attention paid to the god’s preening of his beard.

First half 2011 Box car sales.jpgAccording To Plan
Peacock said there’s a reason tC itself is a relatively shadowy presence in the online-only videos. “Let’s say someone initially wasn’t attracted to tC, but because of the campaign exposure, it would give them more of a tendency to investigate and discover tC,” he said. “We’re trying to attract the kind of person who looks at comedy web sites. That hits a broader range of people than just a car advertisement.”

And for right now, the tC coupe definitely is Scion’s focus. The boxy xB model actually was Scion’s best-seller of its three nameplates last year, but sales dropped nearly 20 percent from 2009, to about 20,400 units, thanks to the recession and as a spate of other “little-box” models from competitors, such as Nissan Cube and Kia Soul, eroded xB’s design edge. Last 2012 Scion iq.jpgyear, tC sold only about 15,200 units, off 15 percent, making it Scion’s best performer on a year-to-year basis. Sales of the third model, xD, declined by 30 percent last year, to about 10,100 units.

Last fall, Scion executives said they hoped to more than double sales of tC with a 2011-model-year redesign, a larger and more powerful update, that went on sale on October 1. At that time, they said, they planned to target Scion’s “traditional” demographic. So far, their plan seems to be working: First-half tC sales in the United States were nearly double year-earlier figures, at nearly 13,000 units, far eclipsing those of the xB and xD and fueling the brand’s year-over-year showing. Adding further optimism is the planned fall launch of a new model, the iQ “microcar” hatchback (right), with a unique “3 + 1” seating arrangement that’s been well received in Europe and other markets – and, reportedly, an FR-S rear-drive coupe next spring.

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