Historical Justification for my Obsession with Scion

or It’s Hip To Be Square.

If there’s one thing Scion does well, it’s stand out. On the highway, in their advertising, and even from the traditional definition of a car. Sounds like I’m exaggerating but honestly, the more I research their marketing strategies and campaigns, the more infatuated I become with their revolutionary take on branding. Sure, I’m biased–I fall smack dab in the focal point of their target market but that doesn’t make this company any less groOovy, maaan.


This subset of Toyota was founded in 2002 with a very specific market segment in mind: Generation Y of the United States. (You heard right, this brand isn’t sold anywhere else in the world. Yet. September 2010 marks its release in Canada.) Given such a limited target, they were allowed certain freedoms in marketing strategies that wouldn’t have been feasible on a massive scale. Honestly, the company’s promotions resemble the evolution of a cultural trend than product-pushing which is either awesomely authentic or brilliantly engineered. Either way, remarkable. Observe:

  • The first year of sales were contained to California.
  • Advertising started at the ground level- local events, concerts, art shows. TV ads didn’t come til later.
  • When TV ads did appear, they were alt as shit

Unsurprisingly, the Scion has been heralded as “one of the auto industry’s most extraordinary marketing success stories” for empowering consumers and creating a market for (what used to be) a new car at a used car price (Ad Age). I think the keys to Scion’s success are sincerity, consistency, and customizability. After all, marketing to Gen Y doesn’t just mean throwing around recycled buzzwords to catch consumer attention, it means creating an experience that is reflected on every level of interaction with the brand.

In doing this, Scion created more than a marque of cars, it paved the way for a new kind of relationship with your car. Because, let’s face it, anyone can make a square car: Pontiac has the Aztek (2001), Chrysler has the PT Cruiser (1999) and Nissan has the Cube (1998), Honda has the Element (2003). No big. What Scion offers, on the other hand, is literally and figuratively a vechicle for your creativity. Back in 2008, the company estimated that on average, Scion owners spent as much on accessories and customizations for their car in the first 36 months of ownership as they did on the car itself. That’s anything but normal. Did you know that Scion prices are nonnegotiable? If a Toyota dealership charges you more or less than the listed MSRP, their license to sell Scions is revoked. So no matter where you live or where you go, you pay the same price. This creates an easy, open environment for car buying and completely removes the frustration of playing cat and mouse with the pushy salesmen. Why? Because Gen Y is fucking tired of games.
Backing up the no-nonsense Pure Price policy is the (perceived) sincerity of their advertising. Scion continues to sponsor and support local-level musicians and artists. They even have their own music festival in Oregon (of course). Browsing through the website, you get the distinct impression that they selling you the community as much as a car. Call me a sucker, but this is a nice change from every other brand listing endless specs.Anyhow, enough of my soapbox, now for the fun part:


Divided into my three favorite campaigns: United by Individuality, What Moves You, and Want2BSquare.


The is the commercial that caught my eye and started the ball rolling on my obsession. One of many reasons to stay up late watching adult swim on a large HD screen. The ad pairs visually stunning graphics of the infinite creative possibilities with custom-made sample-based mashups to represent the remix potential of the car’s (and the owner’s) identity.


Just in case consumers start wondering “How can I be unique if we’re all buying the same cars?” They throw in some catchy (/cheesy) taglines: “Stand with us by Standing out,” “Become one of us by becoming none of us,” “Create a following by never following.” etc
This is my least favorite of the series. It seems a little cheesy. But it definitely ties the room together. Baseline of the campaign: The car is a blank canvas of expression that is as alternative and eccentric as the individual behind the wheel.

Any company trying to embrace counter-culture advertising is forced to walk a fine line between garnering support and scorning mass appeal. In a sense, the Scion cars were the perfect product for this balancing act. Consumers can immediately appreciate the quality, as each is essentially a Corolla, which is one of, if not the, best-selling car in its class. At the same time, the aesthetics of each model almost guarantee limited popularity. I’ll admit it, the first time I saw an XB I thought it was horrible. Scion takes advantage of this guttural reaction and markets it as a strength. And THAT’s good advertising.

I love the creepy little kid’s voice, it definitely adds to the overall eeriness of the commercial.
Or Not

We know some of you think it’s ugly. But we don’t care what you think.
What Moves You

This one fits more into the customizing theme of the other campaign, but I’m categorizing it by tagline. Yup.


This was one of their most successful guerilla marketing campaigns because it took advantage of the internet back when viral marketing was still ramping up. The websites associated with the campaign featured games, interactive activities and a quirky online atmosphere to draw users in. Nowadays, we expect this from a website. Then again, nowadays we’re all overstimulated, attention-deficit brats spoiled by information overload. So the context is a little different. But I think these commercials transcend context and will remain awesome forever and ever amen.

Plus, the “Being Square” pun is pretty clever (cuz the cars are square, get it?)
Oh and back to the idea of supporting local—all three of these ads were created by individuals that ATTIK found by scouring youtube for quirky aspiring animators/filmmakers. Pretty sweet, if you ask me.

Reminiscent of Saw this ad follows mad-scientist Christopher-Walken-lookalike in his exploits.

Round to be Square

Delightfully whimsical for such a morbid cartoon.

H’okay. That’s enough for today. Eventually I want tackle the crazy topic that is SCION CONCEPT CARS, PAST PRESENT, FUTURE. But mehh this post is TL;DR enough as it is. Am I right? I’m pretty sure I already mentioned something about information overload but I’m too lazy to scroll back up…well whatever nevermind.

IN THE END, I believe the marketing department of Scion (and those cool cats at ATTIK) are fucking geniuses. They’ve pumped out 8 years of solid, smart eye candy all the while remaining true to their original target and goal. That said, I think the brand is at a cross-roads. Whether Scion sticks with the young-hip-cultural vibe or decides to age along with Gen Y, they’ll have to reassess their strategies and values.

Parting thoughts– Sadly, no matter how much I love and admire the company on an abstract level, I couldn’t bring myself to buy one of their new cars. I miss the First Generation of XBs.Maybe this is a sad sign I’m slipping out of their target demographic.
Well THAT is a sentence I never thought I would utter.

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