Scion to Younger Buyers: Wanna Chat?

Pursuing young buyers at a zero-to-sixty pace, Toyota is using live chat on the Scion site, as well as banner ads and rich media, to woo the elusive demographic to buy its lower-priced brand.

The campaign comes as Scion prepares to roll out its vehicles across the United States over the next few months. So far, they have only been available in California.

“Chat is a popular medium for the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, so we decided to try it out,” said Brian Bolain, national sales promotions manager for Scion. “This generation grew up with computers. They use AOL Instant Messenger and cell phones. We decided it was time we responded to them in the way they are accustomed to.”

The campaign will continue throughout the year, and also incorporates banners and rich media ads, Bolain said.

“‘Graffiti,’ one of the ads, is a microapplication. You select stencils, a paint can and a color, and you can stencil the background. There’s a Scion xA [the hatchback model, which sells for around $12,000] and an xB [the station wagon, around $14,000] in the ad,” Bolain explained.

The ads are running on a variety of sites geared to the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, including Import Tuner, Super Street, Gaming, GameZone, UGO, iFilm, College Club, Winamp/AOL Music, The DJ List and others. To access the complete application, users must click to go to the Scion site, “where the whole thing resides,” Bolain said.

The Graffiti game and the live chat feature are a new additions to the year-old Scion Web site, which is the centerpiece of a branding effort designed by Los Angeles agency Fresh Machine. Among other things, the site offers a configurator with which users can build their own Scion, along with links for visitors to request additional product information. (Neither of these features are unique to the Scion site.)

Created by LivePerson, Inc., the live chat function is accessible via a button that says, “Click here for help.” Similarly to the instant messaging services provided by AOL, MSN and Yahoo, when the button is clicked, a text box pops up and the dialogue ensues.

“We’re getting hundreds of conversations per week with the LivePerson,” said Adrian Si, interactive marketing manager for Scion. “About 80 percent of the customers who chat with a Scion agent live are prospective customers, so we’ve been able to connect with a good number of potential buyers.”

LivePerson believes live chat has a larger role to play in convincing Internet users which brand to buy. Automakers have become one of the most prolific online spenders, since more and more people are researching these high-consideration items online. Jupiter Research, a division of this publication’s parent company, predicts new car sales generated by the Internet will grow from three million in 2003 to 7.1 million in 2008, driven by a growing Internet population and an audience maturing in its use of the medium.

“This is the beginning of a trend in the auto industry,” asserted Tony Pante, SVP of product strategy for LivePerson, of the chat feature. “You can ask a question before the chat starts or at the end, and Toyota chose to ask for the person’s state, email address and current car.

“They learned about 50 percent of the chats came from states where the Scion wasn’t available. That’s valuable marketing information, potential indications for the market,” Pante said. The information can also be used to support the auto dealer, Pante commented.

“Toyota faces the obstacle of being able to convince the consumer that this is hip and trendy,” observed Wes Brown, CEO of Iceology, a 7-year-old Los Angeles-based tracking company.

“This is because Toyota is a conservative, relatively boring company that appeals to an older baby boomer, that 40-, 50-year-old person,” Brown said.

The car’s unconventional appearance, tall and narrow, might help it overcome the obstacle, he said. Toyota seems to be hoping that a slightly unconventional marketing approach might do the same.

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