Toyota Scion Headbangs Its Way to the Bank

Brand uses art and heavy metal to appeal to new target audience

Toyota believes heavy metal enthusiasts get a raw deal when it comes to being stereotyped as young, uneducated and prone to violence.

In fact, the Japanese carmaker sees the heavily tattooed, headbanging set as a best bet as its Scion brand shifts its target demo and hones in on the subculture it says is most likely to drive home in one of its vehicles.

“We really put a lot of effort into the metal market because they actually buy cars,” said Jeri Yoshizu, Scion’s manager of sales promotions. “All those negative things about these kids, it’s changing. They recognize value.”

They also recognize marketing when they see it, even when said marketing is as subtle as Scion’s new art-gallery-cum-campaign, which opens on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles. But while their too-cool-for-school hipster counterparts may be inclined to shun advertising, metal kids instead thank Scion for putting art and music in their communities. “They actually appreciate the corporate contribution,” Yoshizu said. "There are less shows happening because of [the economy] and Scion's there to do something positive."

These potential buyers are very different from Scion's former target customer, though relatively close in age. The target Scion buyer used to be male and in his early 20s, but is now in his—or her—late 20s or early 30s. "Also, the mindset of this person is very different. He used to be a gatekeeper, a trendsetter. The person I'm now targeting is more inclusive about their community," Yoshizu said. "In 2003, we were looking at people, the street team kids. They were making their money off something that was happening, like party photographers. It was an archetype of a person. A hipster, all of those fuzzy trendsetter words from the 2000s." 

Scion's new headbanging would-be consumer is "not necessarily trying to be a trendsetter, but more of a thought leader. They’re really into journalism. Their blogs are like 2,000 words [each]. They’re really smart kids.”

Those smart kids, she said, just happen to go nuts for a strong guitar riff teamed with screaming vocals, sport tattoos of skulls and other scary things, and dig gothic artistry.

Scion’s new campaign, developed in conjunction with agency Bon U.S.A., is centered on the dark art and objects of British artist French, whose imagery Yoshizu said “aligns with our music initiative” and ranges from tea sets and skateboard decks to beer koozies. “I work for myself, from my house, drinking tea, listening to metal, drawing pictures,” French said.

French’s art and objects will be for sale in Scion’s gallery. “It’s a retail space, there’s art, and you know what, if you want to, you have the chance to test-drive a car,” Yoshizu said. The Scions may seem secondary in this setup, but Yoshizu said the overall result of such subtle campaigns is strong brand loyalty. “Scion’s been doing things in the community for years, and guess what: we sell cars,” she said. 

Scion’s “lifestyle” efforts also include live heavy metal shows, CDs and vinyl albums, and music videos produced by the brand-as-music-label. More than 1,700 artists have participated in more 10,000 events in 250 U.S. cities. Yoshizu wouldn’t discuss the budget for the new art installation, but said Scion has contributed millions of dollars in marketing initiatives dedicated to creative communities.

Yoshizu admits not every promotional attempt has been a success. “We also…partnered with filmmakers to make short films,” she said. “They were the worst movies of all time. [But] I’m all about the experience and not the outcome. If I hire an artist to do a show, and they don’t come and do their best, it’s not my problem.”

For better or worse, Yoshizu said the efforts are noted among those who matter to the brand. “A lot of music blogs write about Scion releases now,” she said.