Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two tales of brand cultural integration

There is an interesting parallel being played out in the young/hip/artsy consumer market. The new team in the game is Nissan and it's star (for now) is the Cube. The vehicles design and the approach echo the pioneering leg work that Toyota successfully laid down almost seven years ago.

In 2003 Toyota launched the Scion - a brand within the Toyota brand that tried very hard to avoid association with it's large corporate father. The car entered the 'mass' market with no traditional mass strategy. Scion knew it's consumer and half a million trying to reach this consumer - not through television, social media or billboards, but by focusing its efforts on integrating the Scion into the target consumer culture. It placed the vehicle outside raves, inside art galleries, dropped them off to a few bloggers, a few niche zine editors - and ended up winning, as sales of the Scion far exceeded the expectations and grew substantially over the next few years.

Jump to 2009 and we have Nissan tapping into a very similar market with a very similar looking car. The Cube is taking its own approach to cultural integration. Focusing on a sub-culture turned mass-cultural medium - Twitter. The Cube is running a contest to aware 50 fine citizens with a new car. I know this doesn't sound like cultural integration - but it's not really the tool that makes this story interesting - it's the strategy.

The contest was open to everyone. If you wanted a free car - if the design spoke to you or [better yet] if the brand meant something to you - it was up to you to define what the vehicle stands for and why you deserve it. As a result thousands of entrants started blogs, tweeting, producing videos, stunts, art exhibits, and other reflections of their cultural communications to spread the word and generate buzz. Then Nissan selected a short-list of 500 and have left it open for public voting. This has only increased the buzz generating efforts of the chosen 500.

The underlying impact on the Cube is twofold:
  1. The brand is being defined by those who will ultimately buy into it. The catch is that it is being defined in a multitude of ways - as each contest consumer has a different opinion or connection to the brand.
  2. Through generating buzz the Cube is finding its way into the consumer culture it needs to be successful. The beauty of the online space is that it can create a substantial echo that reaches far beyond the reach and time originally planned.
The Scion approached the underground culture with an aura of secrecy, hoping to intrigue the key influencers (think Gladwell's Tipping Point). By creating curiosity and allowing these influencers to own the buzz/brand - it was able to leverage the independent underground and evolve a brand within the culture. The strategy wasn't 100% driven by key influencers, but it did manage to hit all the right people at the right time.

The Cube is assuming that those who are working so hard to prove they are worthy of a free car will become influencers during the process. A more open ended approach, it has forgone the secrecy that accompanied the Scion and went for full disclosure - but in a targeted consumer effort. As a result this campaign has the possibility to reach a wider audience and be less of a strict underground/alternative brand. A mass friendly approach to grass roots advertising.

The story has yet to finish. The Cube has just narrowed the list to 500, and we are a few months away from seeing whether the strategy will lead to a win on the car lots. Regardless of the result, a contrasting case study of two similar vehicles using the tools of the hour to reach a narrow band of consumers promises to be entertaining.