Friday, January 15, 2010

Scion’s Missed Opportunity

It might not make sense for every brand to jump head first into social media and start conversing with their customers (though for many it does). Yet, with the widespread adoption of this new platform the dynamic of marketing has changed, and campaigns designed without the existence of these conversations and communities in mind will undoubtedly fall short.

Scion's marketing efforts toward hip hop and graffiti groups offers a great example of how misunderstanding the way targets interact online, even when engaging them elsewhere, can lead to negative results and missed opportunities.

What not to do:
A few years ago Scion rolled into Scribble Jam, an annual Hip Hop and graffiti festival, on a mission to promote their message of individuality. With several graffiti painted cars and carefully produced fliers about the 'indie-ness' of their brand, it was by all accounts a text book street-team style operation and a fantastic failure; the ‘graf’ community was underwhelmed, to say the least, at the relevance of Scion's message and its poor understanding their community.

Some background on the graffiti community:
To say they are rebels is an understatement. Getting caught for painting can easily lead to more jail time than a sexual assault conviction and the lengths to which these artists go to complete pieces in obscure, unreachable places is unreal. They put themselves at great personal risk for their art, their name, and “sticking it to the man.”

They paint, among other things, freight cars. And, most are careful never to paint over tracking numbers so that the cars keep running. As various pieces travel the country other graffiti artists, along with another group of people dedicated to tracking and documenting graf, snap pictures and post them online.

But they’re not posting on Facebook; the graffiti community was online before Frienster, using forums to trade painting tips and pictures. The online component of their community is largely responsible for the shaping and growing the real world community that exists today.

What could have been:
Graffiti artists are anti-establishment, read ad busters and have no love for marketing. And this is how I’d sell them Scion.

Arrive with a fleet of blank, white cars and offer them to the painters as open canvases. No brochures.

Take the best cars from scribble jam along with a few others tagged by well know graf artists and take them off the road. Place them in prominent spots where graffiti is typically found; under bridges, on the roofs of building, on flat bed train cars mixed in with freight. Then do nothing.

Because tracking and sharing found graf online is such an important aspect of the community there’s no need to build flashy micro sites or a fan page on Facebook. When members of the community see the cars word will spread. The unique look of Scions makes the brand unmistakable and the message is a powerful, silent endorsement of the community’s work and culture.

Take away:
I'm sure there are ways to drastically improve my plan, but the core of my argument is about the importance of research, and how online communities aren't just online. The media ecosystem is clearly more complex these days and the value a social agency provides is much more than creating a twitter strategy or improving SEO (though this is essential as well). An agency versed in social understands how social media networks work and how their target interacts with them. This is the type of insight your brand needs today.

Is your agency fluent in social?