February 27, 2024

Toyota Scion Is Backing Indie Bands to Sell Cars

But the shirts were not for Repulsion or any of the other bands at the Roxy, a venerable Sunset Strip dive. They advertised Scion, a line of small boxy cars made by Toyota that hardly seem the stuff of heavy-metal fantasies.

When Toyota began selling the Scion in 2003, the company hoped to draw younger customers with an adventurous and risky form of marketing. Rather than pay for celebrity endorsements, it subsidized music with extremely limited popular appeal, like grindcore.

Now, after years of sporadically releasing music, the company wants to act more systematically, almost like a record label, by sponsoring a full campaign of record releases, videos and tour support for about 20 acts.

A decade ago, a band working with a major corporation faced accusations of selling out, and some of the acts that have worked with Scion have been criticized online, often harshly. But the prevalence of corporate branding has erased much of the stigma once associated with it.

Dale Crover of the Melvins, a metal group that is releasing a mini-album through Scion next year, said he had no qualms about the deal. The band has full artistic control of its product, and with Scion’s money it has also been able to make music videos, something that he said his band had rarely had the budget for.

“I am really glad that a company like this is interested in art,” Mr. Crover said. “It’s a way to continue doing what we do and make money doing it.”

Over the years, Scion has paid for dozens of indie bands to make recordings and videos, and it has put on hundreds of small events like the Roxy show, which the company said cost about $10,000. In its search for ever more marginal forms of music, it supports heavy metal and garage-rock bands, as well as obscure dance subgenres like dubstep and moombahton (a style loosely related to reggaetón).

The idea, according to Jeri Yoshizu, Scion’s manager of sales promotions and the architect of its cultural strategy, is to build good will through many small actions rather than a few large ones.

“My goal is for Scion to stand out as a corporation that gets behind the music community — not the entire music community — and for the brand to represent the feeling that everybody gets something,” she said. “Scion gets something out of it, the kids get something out of it, the artists get something out of it. It’s not just one way.”

This month, Scion A/V, the company’s art and music project, released music by the Los Angeles D.J. and producer Dâm-Funk, and the Singapore grindcore band Wormrot. The company paid all recording costs and is giving the music away to fans, and the acts retain ownership of their music.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Scion will host its second “Music(less) Music Conference” in Hollywood, with about 70 panelists, including Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and the producers Prince Paul and Mark Ronson.

But even after eight years of this marketing strategy — now widely imitated by brands like Converse and Red Bull — the link between supporting underground bands and selling cars is not clear. After opening with a bang, Scion’s sales have lagged, falling from a peak of 173,000 in 2006 to 46,000 last year, according to Ward’s Automotive, which tracks auto sales. While Scion focuses its marketing on consumers from 18 to 24 years old, the median age for the company’s customers is 37.

Scion has been hurt by a down economy, said Dennis Bulgarelli, an analyst at Compete, a market research company. But Scion’s marketing methods, he added, also make it vulnerable as competitors like the Kia Soul and the Nissan Cube have entered the marketplace.

“Being a niche brand that relies more on word-of-mouth and alternative marketing,” Mr. Bulgarelli said, “they have probably gotten lost in the shuffle as some of the bigger brands have come to the forefront.”

Jack Hollis, Scion’s senior vice president, said there was no clear way to measure the effectiveness of its music marketing. “We have chosen to be supportive of the arts regardless of whether it comes back directly to us,” he said.

For Scion, focusing on subcultures and genres means constantly being on the lookout for other companies that may have the same idea. Ms. Yoshizu, who started at Toyota in 1995 in the parts logistics division and is the only current Scion employee who was part of its introduction in 2003, said the company had abandoned its early association with hip-hop partly because another carmaker began to work with some of the same artists and paid them more.

“If we’re going after a genre, as soon as another corporation taps into it, you’re done,” she said. “So what do I need to do strategically? Go for the under-underground. Why? Because you can’t sell the under-underground to other corporations.”

Before the show at the Roxy, which was free, there were no Scions in the parking lot or in the immediate vicinity. And the metal die-hards lining up for the show expressed various opinions about Scion’s cars, but most were appreciative of the company’s efforts to support their favorite music.

“It’s good for the bands,” said Ian Irizarry, 29, who works for an independent horror movie company. “If this is how it’s going to be in the future, where every tour has to be corporate sponsored, then they might as well go for it. But the company is kind of irrelevant to me.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6d4e0a9b30b4936c7c4b699f86c5ba65

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