February 17, 2004
Case Study

Southeast Toyota Beats Sales Goals with Web Plus Street Team Launch Campaign (No Traditional Media)

SUMMARY: When Toyota launched its new Scion line this winter, it told dealers and distributors not to do any traditional ads at all. No TV, no radio, no print.

Instead, marketers had to create unique interactive campaigns to influence the influencers - 18 to 25-year-old male trendsetters in the urban and Hispanic communities. Learn how a regional team combined street teams and online ads to beat sales goals in the Southeast.

Includes creative samples and interesting tips on sponsoring live events for maximum impact in the trendsetter crowd.
Last year Toyota told their #1 franchised distributor, Southeast Toyota Distributors, that a new line of cars was coming out called Scion.

Unlike most new car launches, Toyota wasn't planning any television, radio, or print ads to build initial awareness because Scion was aimed at the male 18-25 demographic -- young men who are more influenced by what they see cool trendsetters do than by traditional advertising. And cool trendsetters don't rush out to buy things they see in mainstream advertising.

The goal was to do such fabulous underground marketing that trendsetters from urban, Hispanic, and "tuner" cultures would admire and purchase Scions. Then, hopefully the guys in the 'burbs would emulate them.

There was just one little problem: young trendsetters dislike car dealerships.

Southeast's Interactive Marketing Manager Chris Pudiwitr explains, "Youth have an aversion to going to dealers or being contacted by a dealer." So, how do you get the word out to just the trendsetters about a car, and convince enough of them to take test drives at the dreaded dealership, in order to meet stiff sales goals?

The marketing team had just three months, October-December, to build brand awareness from zero to overwhelming, and generate a database of 18,000 high-quality prospects, in the targeted demographic in five Southeastern states. Then in January 2004 the car would official launch, and sales begin.

The team decided to test two different tactics -- real world exposure via street teams and online advertising in niche sites.

-> Promoting via street teams at targeted events

Pudiwitr's agency recruited six individuals aged 21-26 to be their official Scion Street Team. "Two just came off another campaign with Bacardi, one was in hotel restaurants, one was in telemarketing… They're all good with people, that's very important."

Because they were in effect dealer ambassadors -- going where typical dealers might not be welcome -- these kids had to be able speak with in-depth knowledge about both Scion and Toyota. So Southeast invested in six solid days of training, including two days at company headquarters in Florida, two days at agency headquarters in Atlanta, plus two days of the training that all new Toyota dealers go through.

The unique thing about the Scion is that it's a bit like Mr. Potato Head. You buy the base car of your choice (at launch there were two different models) and then you customize it with your choice of 70-different accessories.

Southeast created a couple of cars for the Street Team to take to events. "We loaded them up, put everything on the cars we could think of."

To match tuner culture, the base cars were always darker colors - blues, blacks. "You'll see yellow on TV, but in reality they are much more toned down. Tuners don't want the car to be loud, they want the things on the car to be loud."

The agency chose events carefully, sending the Team to key tuner gatherings such as Hot Import Nights in Miami, a beach event in Jacksonville, area college football and basketball games, and to small trendy clubs in Atlanta.

However, to appeal to trendsetters who prefer to discover things for themselves rather than being advertised to, Southeast Toyota dictated that Scion would never ever be promoted as an event's sponsor.

Pudiwitr explains, "Unlike Jeep who will have their name all over, this is not 'Scion Day' and we're not on flyers or titled sponsors. We want to be a part of whatever people are doing, not the reason they are doing it."

So the Street Team simply parked the cars at the venue, without any signage at all, and then waited for people to notice and approach them.

Then if a passerby showed a lot of interest, the Street Team gently prodded that individual to join the email notice database by entering their info in a small wireless laptop they had handy.

-> Online advertising to build awareness and generate leads (Link to samples below.)

At the same time as Street Team deployment, Southeast also launched an online advertising campaign. The media buy was tricky because they needed to target by three elements -- geography, demographic, and lifestyle. Plus, although they wanted to get millions of impressions, the campaign also had to feel underground, instead of mainstream.

So, instead of buying the obvious -- local newspapers and zip code selects of giant portals -- they tested a lot of niche sites, including Hispanic sites Univision and Batanga, hip entertainment sites such as iFilm, UGO, AtomFilms, The Onion, and car-specific sites such as Autotrader.

The media team worked hands-on with each site chosen to optimize results. If a particular ad wasn't working, they tested different units and placements. If results were still low but the resulting leads were on target demographically, the team then asked the sites for extra free impressions to help them make budgeted click and lead goals. Most sites were happy to oblige because they'd been treated as active partners from the start.

The creative team had to walk a tight line between making ads that really attracted attention, and ads that would grow brand awareness and generate quality sales leads. So, although they used a sweeps offer, it didn't blare "Win a New Car!" but rather, "Win a new Scion + $5,000 to customize it."

And, although they used rich media to make the ads stand out, they didn't have the ads move across the screen or jump around. It was more a restrained use of Flash. Hopefully your eye would be focused on the brand and not the movement.

Clicks landed on a microsite that featured a registration form prominently on the first page. You could click around to learn more about the Scion and refer friends of course, but the focus was on registrations.

-> Follow-up email campaign (Link to sample below.)

Starting in December, Southeast began to send out a monthly HTML newsletter to the list created from hand-raisers at the live events, microsite registrations, and names from the main Toyota Scion site. Prior to launch the campaign was carefully calendared out so the creative team agreed on which stories and elements they needed for each issue.

Elements included:
- Invitations to test drive the car at a local dealership
- A list of upcoming events the street team would be at
- Photos from events, and profiles of street team members
- Info about Scion

Southeast Toyota is currently the #1 region for Scion sales with a 26.4% share of nationwide sales. (LA, which launched its own sales and marketing a bit earlier than Southeast, is second with a 17.9% share.) One model, the xB, has hit 119% of sales objectives, the xA is at 69%.

When they solicited registrations, the number one question the Street Team got was, "Is a dealer going to contact me?" Once they reassured prospects that dealers would not approach them directly, prospects were happy to give out contact information.

Pudiwitr learned if you've been to an event multiple times, even just monthly, you tend to get the same repeat people coming over to chat with the Street Team and look at the car. At first that's great because they usually act as evangelists, bringing over pals who hadn't come up the first time. But after a few months the ratio of new impressions to repeats can get too low. "You have to tone it down."

The online campaign got mixed results -- mainly because clickthoughs were less likely to register for the sweepstakes than expected. Clicks were fairly good at .47%, but conversions from click to registration averaged just 4.8%.

Media Director Erin Greenwald attributes this to a Net-savvy demographic. "Younger people are very reluctant to give data. People are just frustrated with spam, and this is a demographic that's online a lot. They're constantly being bombarded with forms and profiles to fill out."

As a result, even a great offer and registration form design won't get the results you may expect for this demographic.

Interestingly the clicks second-most likely to convert came from the one site that wasn't geared specifically to the young, hip demographic -- Autotrader.

First-most likely to convert clicks were visitors resulting from the viral tell-a-friend function. 10% of these registered, proving yet again that viral names are definitely worth gunning for.

The media buying team's site relations paid off, most sites agreed to run extra ads to boost response for no extra charge. So the campaign reached 54,513,875 impressions -- 178% of contracted impressions, equaling $160,000 in added value.

The email campaigns were also successful. An average of 2.3% of names delivered* in December and .8% of names delivered in January raised their hands to request a test drive. The overall delivered email open rate in both December and January was 34%.

(*Delivered is defined as names mailed minus bounces and duplicate addresses.)

The names most likely to request a test drive were those who visited Scion.com's main site of their own volition because they heard about the car through word of mouth. The least likely to request a test drive were those who'd already seen the car at a street event -- which makes sense because they'd already seen it in the flesh so the curiosity factor was a bit lower.

Overall the demographics of the names gathered was dead-on perfect, with more than half aged under 30.

Useful links related to this story:

Samples of the rich media ads, microsite, and email newsletter

breatheinteractive, the agency that created and managed this campaign


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