Yoshizu Drives Scion’s Image

NEW YORK As the sales promotions manager for Toyota’s youth-targeted Scion brand, Jeri Yoshizu’s job is to make sure the car is considered cool.

She does this in part by sponsoring roughly 70 music events a month, the Route Independent Film Series and the Installation Art Tour. The Scion, first introduced in June 2003, has seen sales climb from 10,898 cars the first year to 173,034 in 2006.

The 38-year-old Yoshizu, who admits getting a C in marketing at Cal State, Long Beach, talks about heavy metal concerts, what Toyota is learning from the brand and courting Kevin Smith on MySpace.

Q: As a lifestyle marketer, you look for ways to make Scion relevant to young people. When is a youth trend ready to be co-opted by a corporation?
A: Our job is to translate [what’s already cutting edge] to marketing. If the latest and greatest thing is a specific color, we’re not going to jump on that. It has to develop in specific areas before the corporation will come in. That’s honoring the trendsetters’ and influencers’ lifestyle. They work really hard at cultivating what they’re into and you’ve got to let them enjoy it before a corporation comes in. Something we’re utilizing is electro house. We’re about to do our fourth experimental show in L.A. They’re very small music events with 200 people. We’re working with Vice Records, which distributes Ed Banger out of Paris, Mr Oizo and Chromeo. We were heavy into hip-hop early on, but now we’re diving back into dance music. There’s no research, it’s more watching the music scene change. We also sponsor over 70 shows a month. If we only did one big party a year, we would have no ground-level understanding of what’s going on.

Give us the philosophy behind a typical Scion promotional effort.
High-quality production, high-quality acts and what the consumer wants to experience. Just make sure the talent’s good, it’s the right promoter and the right people are there. You have to have a reasonable expectation for events. You don’t do an event at a 2,000-seat place, for example. It’s impossible.

Why did Scion take such a nontraditional approach?
The volume for the product was low, and in order to create a new niche you have to justify a strategy of going after a specific person. At the time, Toyota was not going after that person.

What unproven strategy are you testing now?
Metal shows. It’s another kind of lifestyle. We haven’t done any yet, but our first show is next month. It’s a heavier sound, not speed metal but, for example, acts like The Sword and Pelican that have more of the Black Sabbath sound.

What kind of metrics do you use to measure the success of these events?
The answer on one level is we do RSVPs, so if you’re not on the list, you can’t get in. That’s the most quantitative way. Then there’s attendance. We don’t do broad advertising for the events. There are a lot of theories on event marketing success metrics, but they’re the unicorn. It’d be amazing to have it, but it doesn’t exist. We’re good at laying out normal expectations. If someone is too much, we won’t work with them. If a venue is too difficult, we won’t work with it.

The latest Scion campaign from Attik, “Little Deviants,” features angry, highly destructive gremlins. How does this square with the Scion brand?
When you’re talking about mass-market advertising, you have to be able to make an impact that’s visual and different. On a creative level, I assist when I can: [My department] assisted with the street team and merchandising.

Scion is a car targeted squarely at Generation Y, who are notoriously fickle. What is the game plan when they eventually grow up and move on to other brands?
The plan is to not be like Rolling Stone magazine and age with the target market. Every six months or a year, we have to reassess the direction we’re going in.

How is Toyota applying what Scion has learned to other brands?
I think they’re reacting a lot faster and
getting into customized cars, having a lot more lifestyle events addressing their target markets. And their advertising is becoming more specific to vehicles, and they’re on a faster pace.

What was your most recent creative coup?
We’re actually working with Mark Mothersbaugh [of Devo fame]. We’re working on getting him to curate a show at a gallery. He’s one of the most normal, interesting people to talk to. He’s a musician, an artist and writer. … When you look back on the Devo sound, it’s timeless. Getting him is such an honor. I couldn’t think of anyone who fits better into what we’re trying to do. He knows what’s going on today, and he’s not someone who fell off into a time warp.

Where do you get your inspiration?
iTunes. Because they have really good categorizing and one song leads to 50 others. I can go through it for hours and really get into it. I also like to watch cooking shows and talk to eccentric people.

How do you get past a creative block?
I’ll have a beer to relax and then I’ll watch Top Chef [on Bravo]. If I have a moment to relax, I get really inspired. I read music magazines like Q and Uncut.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
One of the things I’ve learned is not to worry what people say about you because you have to worry about yourself. I learned that from Jim Lentz [Toyota Motor Sales evp, with overall responsibility for Toyota, Scion and Lexus in the U.S.], who said, “Don’t let every single thing bother you.”

Who has influenced you most creatively?
Echo and the Bunnymen. They were the first non-pop band that made me realize I was not a mainstream person. Everyone had Wham! posters, and I had Echo and the Bunnymen. I’m more substance than, “Oh, they’re so cute.”

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?
Learning to say no.

And what’s the dumbest?
Sponsoring a massive concert tour. I learned you can take the money and produce the event yourself. You don’t have to be the slave of someone who is completely different from your brand.

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in marketing?
Pay attention to your own habits as a consumer and stop pretending there are magical things out there. Look at it from your own point of view and how you would react to it, and bring that to the table. Having an opinion is good, but self-restraint is too.

What’s your dream job?
I would like to [produce] for someone who has an outrageous vision. I’ve always wondered what it took to put the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together, where a moment in time is captured.

Who are you dying to work with?
Kevin Smith. He ignored my post on his MySpace page. I think he’s a super-innovative person who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but has a distinct attitude towards life. He’s probably really fun to work with, and creative.