Look who's driving design
Toyota's new Scion points to a new industry premise: Boomers may hold the wealth, but brand-loyal youths hold the key to a carmakers' long-term success.
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Many recent attempts to capture the youth market - mini SUVs, the Ford Focus, and the Toyota Echo, for example - have been co-opted by older people, says Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., which focuses on the auto industry.Skip to next paragraph
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So small armies of marketing gurus are trying to figure out what young people want that grownups don't.
The answer may be simple: What young adults have always wanted. Extending respect, say experts, is the minimum requirement to do business with today's youth. Acknowledging individuality is the selling point.
On top of that, they demand "authenticity," evidence that a brand is of quality and has staying power, says marketing guru Marian Salzman, the author of "Buzz: Harness the Power of Influence and Create Demand."
Still, marketing provides an important wedge for building wider acceptance among youths. Running TV commercials is no longer enough.
Marketers now hold events where young people hang out. And they bring plenty of free samples - sorry, not cars, just key chains or logo-embroidered hats. The idea: Imprint a brand on the youth culture's most active players, and let them do the rest.
Pretrends are born on the "lunatic fringe," says Ms. Salzman, echoing Wacker. From there "alphas" - like the lead dog in a pack - weed out the good from the bad and begin adopting something.
But even this doesn't make a trend, she says. Afterward "bees" must pick up the ideas like pollen and spread them throughout the culture.
These are the Gen-Y trendsetters that designers of brands like Scion hope to attract. These grass-roots marketing efforts give a product respect and authenticity among peers without undermining respect for the company, says Ms. Salzman.
Of course, experts agree that companies must follow up on their marketing blitzes by delivering products that fulfill real needs.
"These kids don't know what crank windows are," says Farley. Not only do vehicles have to include every luxury feature imaginable, they also have to be able to do everything from racing off-road to carrying mountain bikes to supporting occasional slumber. Farley says that a quarter of Gen-Yers keep a change of clothes in their cars at all times.
Beyond that, members of Gen-Y want affirmation of their individuality.
"Youths want something that sticks out a little, that says 'I've got something you don't,' " Farley says.
Looking at it, the xB certainly does that - especially once a buyer gets done "slamming" it with dealer accessories. Scion offers lots of factory customization, from big wheels and suspension kits to graphics on the paint and interior trim.
Whether that's enough to make it authentic is questionable, but at least the Scion comes with the factory warranty, so Generation Yers won't spend precious time and money maintaining it.
Certainly the Scion has received some attention. The xB, especially when modified, is reportedly mobbed at so-called "tuner" shows frequented by "fast and furious" 20-somethings, says Farley.
How many will buy it, though, is a different question. "Young people aren't buying new cars," says Mr. Spinella.
Youths' reasons for buying used vary. Some believe they can get a more luxurious or authentic brand name for less money, others because used cars will leave more cash for covering any customizations.
Still, this generation may be different. What these buyers want may be BMW cachet and luxury at the Scion's $14,000 price, Farley insists. They may also think they'll encounter less hassle if they buy something new.
And Toyota has tried to make the Scion easy to buy, with Internet kiosks in dealerships and a pledge from dealers to stick to advertised prices.
"Young consumers don't mind negotiating, but [not if] it takes too much time," says Farley.
Besides, Toyota's backing may give Scion another advantage: Parents may be more willing to help foot the bill. "Kids love us because we're different," says Farley. "Parents love us because we're Toyota."