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Scion sponsors Toronto's Alternative Arts & Fashion Week earlier this year. (Toyota)
Scion sponsors Toronto's Alternative Arts & Fashion Week earlier this year. (Toyota)

Toyota

Can Scion seduce Canada's youth? Add to ...

If you're over 50, you probably haven't seen or heard a single word, image or streaming video about Scion, Toyota's so-called "youth" brand.

Frankly, Toyota - ah-hem, Scion - isn't interested in selling Scion cars to baby boomers at all. Boomers today may dominate the new-vehicle market, snapping up 50 per cent of all sales. But by 2020, Generation Y - today's under-35 crowd - will command 40 per cent of the new-car market. Boomers? 25 per cent.

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Three Scions now available

2011 Scion xB
Toyota's "youth" brand launches in Canada, eight years after it arrived in the United States

"Successfully connecting with this market is not only essential, it also brings with it huge potential," says Scion Canada director Larry Hutchinson, a proud boomer himself. "There are six million members of Gen-Y in Canada. That's a market close in size to the baby boomers. And as the children of boomers, Gen-Y has serious buying power: $20-billion worth today - and trillions of dollars down the road."

By launching Scion in Canada, eight years after it arrived in the United States, Toyota is tacitly admitting that its core Toyota brand lacks something - or many things. Toyota is admitting that its image with the under-35 crowd has grown stodgy, tired and uninteresting. Reaching Gen Y buyers, says Hutchinson, requires a "radical new business model," one aimed at impatient buyers with short attention spans. They all demand instant gratification.

Photos: Dropping Scions

2011 Scion xB, tC, xD
In Pictures: Three models from Toyota's "youth" brand are available in Canada

"It's important that we capture their attention immediately, and then give them a reason to keep listening, interacting and engaging with the brand," says Hutchinson.

Nice idea. The problem, in a nutshell, is that Scion in the U.S. has been something of a dud. Scion suffered a 49 per cent sales decline in the U.S. last year, admittedly a disastrous, recession-wracked year for selling new cars. In 2006, Scion sold 173,017 vehicles. That dropped to 113,848 in 2008. In the awful year of 2009, only 57,775.

Scion's potential buyers were most likely unemployed or fearful of becoming so. Many simply moved back into their parents' basements and set about hunkering down and waiting for an economic uptick.

Sure, Scion's three-car lineup in 2009 was aged and stale. For 2010, Scion has an all-new tC coupe and freshened versions of the boxy, Corolla-based xB and the Yaris-based xD. Toyota Canada managing director Stephen Beatty says the timing of Scion's launch in Canada was largely dictated by the timing of Scion's product updates for 2010.

Cars, of course, are cars, no matter how well-equipped they are (Scions are loaded), how funky the designs (the xB has the shape of a shipping crate) or how powerful (the tC is rated at 180 horsepower for less than $21,000). Perhaps more interesting than the cars themselves is the way Scion the brand is coming to market. The last time Toyota launched a new brand in Canada, it was Lexus, 20 years ago. This sort of thing doesn't happen often.

Sure, there are 45 Scion dealers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but they'll play a smaller role in Scion's launch than the Internet, where Gen Y lives. Hutchinson says the Scion Nation website - scionnation.ca - is at the heart of Scion's marketing and launch plan. The site is anchored by the Scion vehicle configurator, which allows visitors to select a model, personalize it, price it "and then see it come to life in a rich and interactive landscape.

"When they have created their unique ride, they can then deliver this custom configuration to a Scion dealer, and turn their dream car into a reality."

Scion is actually hoping for Gen Y-ers to add $4,000 or $5,000 worth of extra accessories using the configurator. The buzz word is "personalization" - "Personalization isn't a novelty for Gen-Y. They have been raised to expect it," says Beatty - but at its core Scion's heavily Internet-dependent selling process is all about giving buyers the tools to dress up a standard Scion with thousands in extra equipment.

Then there is the social media part of the marketing push. Scion the brand is active on interactive websites from Facebook (www.facebook.com/ScionCanada) to Twitter (twitter.com/ScionCanada for Twitter).

On Facebook, Scion has loaded up with announcement for live events (e.g., the free You Say party at Chapel Arts in Vancouver Wednesday, Oct. 13, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and the wall has both owner-generated content and material from Scion itself. The Facebook site also has a link to YouTube, where all sorts of video has been posted to push the Scion message and, you might say, "lifestyle." Twitter? Scion is actively reaching out to its key potential customers with short, timely tweets. Twitter, of course, is mostly a place where younger, tech-savvy people link and share in real time. Boomers? Not so much. For them, tweeting is something cartoon characters did when they were kids.

As for the dealers, they seem almost an afterthought. Hutchinson calls the fanciest Scion dealerships "boutique" models. But in most cases, Scion will own a corner of an existing Toyota store - what's called "shop-in-shop" in the car business. The novelty: "Each is equipped with computer stations where customers can shop, select, build and personalize their Scion," he says.

The marketing challenge is to get young, male trendsetters - the most important group for Scion to reach - interested in Scion, interested enough to configure a ride and venture into a Scion shop-in-shop.

"Whether it's television, magazines, or other channels, the media that appeals to Scion's target market tends to be smaller, more focused, more personalized. Think specialty channel instead of broadcaster. Think counter-culture magazine found in a small independent store, instead of mainstream publication found in the supermarket," says Hutchinson.

More important than the media buy to Scion's launch is the experiential "push" marketing. And this is why boomers never encountered Scion at all once the marketing push officially began June 4. Events and grassroots marketing have dominated the Scion launch. After all, Gen Y goes out on Friday night - to art, fashion, sports and tuner events where Scion has been lurking with its message.

Scion, in fact, sponsored more than 100 so-called "Scion Sessions" in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver - from DJ nights to concerts. Scion also sent out street teams to push the Scion message.

"These grassroots events brought us into contact with more than 50,000 urban-savvy members of Gen-Y," says Hutchinson.

Now, with the Scion brand officially for sale as of the end of September, the full marketing blitz is on. One piece of that puzzle is Canada's first 3-D commercial; it is being shown at certain Cineplex movie theatres. Boomers are not big movie goers, generally, so if you're over 50 you probably won't see it.

The endgame in all this is to pull Gen Y into the Toyota family using Scion as the hook. In the U.S., 71 per cent of Scion buyers are new to Toyota, the company says. Moreover, the median age of a Scion buyer is 35, versus a whopping 55 for Toyota. Toyota buyers still watch TV, read the newspaper and barbeque in the backyard; Scion's target customer works the Internet and socializes both online and in person - often all the while still living at home.

Now you know why if boomers buy Scions out of the box, Scion's launch has been a failure.

Photos: Dropping Scions

2011 Scion xB, tC, xD
In Pictures: Three models from Toyota's "youth" brand are available in Canada



Three Scions now available

2011 Scion xB
Toyota's "youth" brand launches in Canada, eight years after it arrived in the United States

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