TTAC Reader Richard responds to Derek’s Scion Metalhead Marketing piece from the perspective of a car lover and metal fan
” ‘Entrails ripped from a virgin’s c**t,’ ” I thought to myself. Toyota wants to play patron to a musical genre that has spawned songs like ‘Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C**t’ and ‘Christraping Black Metal.’ What are they thinking?”
My disbelief at Scion AV’s announcement echoed across heavy metal fandom. If there’s such a thing as collective cognitive dissonance, Scion AV caused it. Nobody could believe that Toyota was going to do this. What did heavy metal have to do with selling cars? And why would Toyota risk its stodgy and safe image on promoting itself via heavy metal, even if done through the ‘edgy’ and ‘youth-oriented’ Scion brand?
Toyota’s decision was and is questionable in four ways. First up: return on investment, if such a thing is calculable in this sort of endeavor. Not only was Toyota going to promote itself by sponsoring heavy metal concerts and EP length recordings, but it was going subterranean with its efforts. For mainstream listeners, metal consists of the four biggest bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Judas Priest, plus whatever’s big at the moment. In the 90s and early 2000s, that would’ve been bands like Pantera, Tool, and nu-metal dreck like KoRn and Limp Bizkit. Today it would be bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TTAC’s readership hasn’t heard of them. Toyota/Scion AV charged right past all of those commercially viable bands and straight into the underground.
Not to the deepest portions of the underground, though. Not to the boutique labels that release 666 hand numbered copies of an album on vinyl, but deep enough to make someone like me question their wisdom. Deep enough to make me wonder how they could ever justify their return on investment.
As of 10/07/12, here are the listener counts for some big name metal bands:
Iron Maiden: 1,707,577 listeners and 117,145,590 listens
Metallica: 2,222,074 listeners and 200,177,496 listens
KoRn: 2,144,093 listeners and 95,712,085 listens
Black Sabbath: 1,887,855 listeners and 59,002,836 listens
Some bands that are currently on major labels:
Mastodon: 595,766 listeners and 27,849,836 listens
Opeth: 649,761 listeners and 54,861,149 listens
Lamb of God: 836,366 listeners and 35,661,176 listens
…and the listener counts for 7 of the bands that Scion has sponsored on tour and/or via free EP releases:
Enslaved: 134,715 listeners and 6,138,855 listens
Revocation: 23,991 listeners and 713,002 listens
Immolation: 65,737 listeners and 2,725,147 listens
Melvins: 263,004 listeners and 9,104,309 listens
Wolves in the Throne Room: 80,512 listeners and 2,422,323 listens
Nachtmystium: 41,598 listeners and 1,666,147 listens
Pallbearer: 7,362 listeners and 105,479 listens
There’s a good reason why the last.fm playcounts for the Scion AV bands are so relatively low, and it’s not the quality of the music. Toyota did not choose a musically accessible genre to sponsor. Death metal variously presents the listener with a 200+ bpm assault, specialized drumming techniques, sweep-picking, and dozens of parts per song, or alternatively, sludgy and murky riffs delivered at a zombie’s lurch. Black metal is based around heavily distorted guitars tremolo strummed as quickly as possible, creating a hypnotic sheet of white noise. Doom metal moves like a zombie without legs. Across subgenres, extreme metal’s vocals are mostly performed using the false cords in the throat, so the result is a variety of screams, shrieks, grunts, and roars. All of this stuff is impenetrable and repulsive to most mainstream listeners.
Tour attendance is commensurate with those last.fm counts. Toyota also chose not to sponsor big metal package tours like Summer Slaughter or Ozzfest. Scion AV is true niche marketing.
Second, there’s the potential for damage to Toyota’s reputation. Underground metal’s lyrics are as extreme as the music. Satanism, gore, depictions of violence, misogyny, misanthropy, anti-religious screeds, the occult, and pagan religions are common lyrical topics. The musicians can be as extreme as the music. Deicide’s frontman has branded his forehead with an upside down cross for years. Black metal has a history of racism, murder, church burnings, suicide, and possibly cannibalism. (Note: the ‘black’ refers to the music’s tone, not the skin color of the musicians.)
Toyota was and is attempting to sell average American cars with the musical equivalent of Formula 1 racers, Top Fuel Dragsters, and primered diesel Chevettes. Not only that, but they are running the risk that Joe Sixpack and Jane Housewife discover that Scion is promoting music that runs counter to everything they believe in. Joe and Jane might not know enough or care enough to do the research to find out that Toyota sponsors evil music through Scion AV, but that doesn’t matter. Give the Christian Right or PC Left two minutes on the Internet, and they’ll suss it out and spread the word. This has happened before. Does anybody remember Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Council? Or the time Judas Priest were sued for backmasking suicidal messages, or when Slayer was sued for causing their fans to commit ritual “Satanic” murders?
The third and fourth questionable aspects of the Scion AV endeavor are the customer base that Toyota is attempting to reach. While there are plenty of old-timer metalheads who were there in the 70s and 80s, there are many, many more metalheads who are in their mid 30s or 20s. I’m 29, and thus at the beginning of the Gen Y/Why generation. If you’ve paid attention to the news, we are being hit hard by unemployment and decreasing wages. We’re saddled with monster student loans and massive national debt. I won’t belabor you with further details.
Frankly, metalheads are nerds. Most of us Gen Y types barely have money for our chosen hobby. Cars? Who gives a shit! We’ve chosen an expensive hobby, one that’s comparable in nerd factor and financial drain to…being a car nerd.
One thing Toyota got right: metalheads, like most people, treat cars as appliances. I’m an exception; I know one other metalhead who cares about cars. My goofy pen-name is drawn from an obscure metal song about cars, I drive a Cobalt SS (turbo and LSD, natch), and I used to own a GTO Monaro (LS2 ftw). I’m doing better than many Gen Y’ers in that I have a stable job with career prospects and high demand from Fortune 500 companies. I can afford to sock money away and keep the Cobalt happy and fed and still drop a few hundred dollars a month on heavy metal crap. If push came to shove though, I’d sell the Cobalt and find something used, cheap, reliable, and with a stick so that I could keep buying metal stuff. I am not going to miss out on limited print run CDs from my favorite labels. In that, I’m one with the metalhead crowd.
Finally, assuming that metalheads had money for cars or particularly cared about them, there’s the risk that Scion’s sponsorship will (or has) backfired on Toyota. Underground metal is staunchly independent. The lack of money circulating through the genre’s marketplace means that bands and record labels are fiercely DIY. We picked up on 80s punk and hardcore’s anti-mainstream, anti-success attitude. We’re opposed to plays for commercial or mainstream acceptance. We’ll turn harder than Schumaker’s Ferrari when a band tries to sell out. We don’t need Scion’s money. Some of us don’t want it.
We value our freedom of speech as well, allowing Cannibal Corpse to lyrically torture women and Arghoslent to write racist horseshit like “Quelling the Simian Surge.”
Like any culture or group, we need enemies. We need an Other. We’ve had many: punk rock and hardcore, posers, hair metal, nu-metal, sell-outs, grunge/alternative rock, and carpetbagging hipster thieves. The music industry itself.
Add those factors, anti-commerce, pro-freedom of speech, and oppositional attitudes, and Scion’s courting disaster. The slightest misstep, and we’ll perceive them as exploiting us, censoring us, or working against us. Even if they get things right, we might just take their gifts and ignore their cars anyway.
You don’t need me to say this, but it bears repeating: corporations would sacrifice babies if made them cool to consumers. Precious few companies ever become cool. I don’t think any company has ever advertised its way into being cool.
So far, Scion hasn’t screwed themselves over, but they haven’t achieved any immediately obvious success either. To put it bluntly, whoever’s running the operation knows their shit and did their research. They’ve sponsored respectable first-tier underground bands. They haven’t overdone it, and they haven’t censored anybody. Their concerts have been professional and well run. They’ve treated the bands and fans better than they would usually be treated within the confines of the metal industry: the tickets are cheap or free, the bands get paid on time and per contract, and the EPs are completely and totally free for download. Because the bands that Scion chose aren’t all that objectionable* in relative terms, nobody’s been censored other than perhaps a written or unwritten understanding that they don’t publicly slag Scion or Toyota. The Scion branded merch is free and reportedly both quality and not overdone. The socks in particular are apparently quite popular.
Nevertheless, there’s the success and return on investment issue. Again, I’ve seen almost no evidence that Scion’s campaign is working. I’ve heard through the grapevine that a number of band members are quite grateful and have reciprocated by purchasing vehicles. That’s not Scion’s goal, because touring bands have no money and the bulk of the metal customer base are mere fans like me. This past summer, I attended Maryland Deathfest, which is the largest and best extreme metal fest in America. I estimate that over 3,000 people attended it. I made a point of walking the parking lot. There were plenty of older Toyotas and a few newer ones. There were no Scions.
However, this is Toyota we’re talking about. Toyota plays the long game; like the Soviet Union, they’ve got 5 year plans and they stick to them, except that the plans actually work. Toyota is marketing to a niche, but it’s cheap marketing. Those EPs can’t have cost more than $25k each to record and release each, and in the metal underworld, the publicity takes care of itself. A couple of thousand dollars per tour date in a band’s coffers is a rounding error in Toyota’s annual advertising budget. In exchange, Scion gets to plaster their logo on artwork, merch, and banners. People like me blog about it. I’d be shocked if Scion AV’s total cost to Toyota is more than a million dollars a year. It’s also worth mentioning that Scion AV is targeting genres other than metal as well.
If we judge Scion AV as a long-term marketing campaign, than I’ve already seen an example of it succeeding. One of my fellow metal bloggers recently purchased a Corolla S instead of a Civic or Focus. He bought the car because it met his needs and because Toyota gave him the best deal. However, he admitted that he remembered Scion AV’s sponsorship and how it treated us.
That’s what Toyota is banking on. They know that most of us aren’t filthy, drugged up, unemployable morons. They know that one day we’ll need cars. And when that time comes, we might remember that free Enslaved EP and that cheap Pallbearer tour date in New York City, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll reciprocate.
Choosing metal was astute in a more subtle way than just the cheapness of the sponsorships, because metalheads are loyal consumers. We’ll stick with a band even through crap album after crap album. We’ll welcome them back after a stylistic misstep. We’ll attend tours and put up with the weak songs just to hear the hits, and we’ll drive or fly cross country to do it. When was the last time you bought every CD that a record company released? We know individual record labels’ release schedules, and we buy every album based on label recognition alone.
Companies not named Apple would, again, sacrifice babies for this kind of loyalty. It’s feasible that if we buy a Toyota and it doesn’t suck, we’ll be back in 5 to 10 years to buy another, and another, and another. Of course, that’s true of other consumers as well.
I wrote this as a partial response to Derek’s recent piece regarding Scion AV, which comes at least two years after Scion AV started supporting metal. The overall message of Derek’s post was that Scion AV supporting metal is a waste and a mistake. I’m not convinced that it will be a waste or a mistake, especially if Scion AV keeps going and ramps up their efforts to full albums and additional tours. Derek linked to an AdWeek article, and paraphrasing it, Scion’s sales manager claims that Scion’s advertising sells cars and that metalheads buy cars in quantity enough to justify the marketing. I have no idea how Toyota will back up that determination with data, now or ever. At current funding and effort levels, I think Scion AV will turn out to be a wash for Toyota. Then again, I still think they’d do better to sponsor bigger acts and package tours. It’d cost more money, but it would reach a much, much larger audience.
You could also argue that targeting underground metal, a subculture that is brand apathetic as it pertains to cars, is genius. Being first does count for something.
As previously mentioned, Toyota and Scion took a risk associating themselves with underground metal. If certain elements from either side of political spectrum, especially on the Republican side, decide to pay attention, this could all backfire badly on Toyota. Chevy, Ford, Home Depot, and Target have all been boycotted for advertising to the LBGT community or for being LBGT friendly. I’m sure that in the Religious Right’s eyes, metalheads fall at or below the LBGT community in terms of undesirability.
Derek also focused on one of the Scion sales manager’s (Yoshizu) quotes as being particularly bullshitty:
“[A metal fan is] not necessarily trying to be a trendsetter, but more of a thought leader. They’re really into journalism. Their blogs are like 2,000 words [each].”
“The person I’m now targeting is more inclusive about their community.”
Derek was right about one thing: this is a PR hack’s flack. I know what the Scion dude is saying, though. He’s talking about me and a lot of metal fans that I know, the bloggers especially. We pride ourselves on our taste in music and sharing bands that we think are good. Every time I review a band’s album, I’m bring that band more fans. I’m supporting my bands with more than just my dollars. I don’t know about “trendsetting” or “thought leading,” from I am definitely free publicity and I am definitely inclusive about my community. Yoshizu was right about metalheads talking about Scion AV tours and releases.
Yoshizu’s on a roll:
“They actually appreciate the corporate contribution[.]”
As they say on these internets: +1. I don’t know for a fact whether Toyota’s investment in my preferred musical genre is paying off for the company. None of the fans do. It doesn’t matter. Most of us are happy to benefit from Toyota’s largesse. I certainly am. I won’t start objecting until I learn that Toyota is actually paying bands a middle class salary or dropping huge wads of cash in their pockets.
In the meantime, keep buying Toyota products, Scions in particular. I suspect that your dollars are throwing my bands’ concerts and recording my bands’ music. Thanks for reading, and thanks for paying. I’ll think of TTAC’s commenters and throw some horns on your behalf the next time I see a show.
N.B. One band, Nachtmystium, had their Scion AV sponsorship pulled due to allegations of racism and racist beliefs. The band claims that they are not racist.
Richard Street-Jammer has been a metalhead for over a decade. He makes dumb jokes, car metaphors, and rambles incoherently about bands older than he is at invisibleoranges.com. He wishes he hadn’t chosen such a dopey but appropriate pen name.