As the country works together to fight off depression this winter, we’ll have to do without the usual excitement of the circuit of over-the-top auto shows. Even the revered Detroit International Auto Show is struggling, as Nissan (whose new ads feature the tag line “You don’t just need a car, you need a car company“) pulled out of the event and all the other manufacturers are cutting back on parties, catering, and models. GM is even trading in the usual wood floors in its exhibit for less-costly carpet.
Against this backdrop, there seems to be one company – or rather one marque of the no-longer profitable Toyota Motor Corp – that is still “cool:” Scion. Personally, I find their cars pretty ugly and they’re not fun to drive (I’ve rented the xB a few times through Zipcar). Perhaps their only redeeming quality in my eyes is that ?uestlove drives one.
Currently, viral marketing is all the rage (Dodge is trying to ignore the reality of non-existent truck sales by putting together a viral “reality” show with some real Americans) but there remains nothing more powerful than when customers spontaneously adopt a brand personality.
This is where Scion gets really creepy (start at 0:30):
From its inception in 2003, Scion, a division of Toyota, has made rampant use of grassroots marketing to recruit owners like Mr. Wong — young, enthusiastic, industrious — to be the hot-rodders of tomorrow. Encouraged by Scion’s keenly directed flow of marketing dollars, which not only support car shows and track days but also hip-hop concerts, fashion shows and exhibitions of graffiti art, owners have formed close-knit social networks in the real and virtual worlds, where Mr. Wong is the very model of an alpha Scion citizen.
Asked in an instant messaging exchange whether he goes to Scion meets, Mr. Wong replied: “All the time. I have one tonight, one Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week.”
This fanaticism brings to mind Marx’s famous quip about Ideology “They do not know it, but they are doing it.” Scion has successfully engineered a product that is meant to be incomplete. By opening up their cars to easy modification, Scion has created a brand that captures customers’ imaginations because they can be unique after buying the car. Obviously this is a common tactic among brand managers, but the genius here is how Scion parlayed this feeling into a need to continually buy new parts, continually pour more money into the car.
I don’t think it should ever be surprising that advertising creates this kind of mentality, but it’s the fanaticism that really gets me. If you don’t believe me, check out the comments on that youtube clip.