The Internet is a key marketing tool for Toyota as the company reaches out to potential buyers of its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid car.
'In a typical car launch, you contact people by mail. In this campaign, it was primarily done through the Internet,' says Steve Sturm, vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
E-mail is less expensive and gets a better response than mail, Sturm adds, declining to give a cost savings.
Says Art Spinella, vice president of CNW Marketing/Research: 'I think Toyota learned a lot from General Motors' EV1 (electric car) on what not to do. GM ran great ads for the EV1, but they were marketing it like a mass-market Chevrolet. Of all the studies we've done (on electric and hybrid vehicles), we've found that these are not mass-appeal vehicles. They are niche vehicles. The buyers tend to be techies who like new products.'
CNW Marketing/Research is in Bandon, Ore.
Consumers interested in the Prius, Toyota's first gasoline-electric hybrid, probably bought some of the first laptop computers, the first DVDs and the first CD-ROMs.
'These are primarily what we call early adopters, the people who adopt technology early in the life cycle of a product,' says Sturm. 'We're also going after early majority buyers, the people who wait for the early adopters to adopt it.'
The environmentally conscious crowd also is attracted to the Prius, Sturm says, because the sedan does the job of a gasoline-powered car with the advantages of lower emissions and better fuel economy.
Before the Prius was launched in July, Toyota developed a profile of typical Prius buyers (see box above).
Sturm says the profile matches Prius hand-raisers - people who have indicated to Toyota that they are interested in the vehicle - and purchasers. Toyota does not have more specific data on Prius buyers because only 1,563 retail and fleet customers have taken delivery through September.
The Prius' hybrid competitor in the U.S. market, the two-door Honda Insight, attracts buyers similar to those the Prius expects, according to American Honda Motor Co. Inc.
Because of the Prius' unusual powertrain - in which an electric engine augments the gasoline engine - Toyota had to educate consumers about the Prius' technological features and advantages, Sturm says. That education has included demonstrations at prospective buyers' homes, vehicle loans for hand-raisers and displays at auto shows.
'Before we did any direct marketing on the car, we gave electronic messages (e-mails) to those (more than 40,000 hand-raisers), giving them the first opportunity to order the car,' says Sturm, who adds that Toyota has taken more than 4,000 orders for the car.
Toyota began its national advertising campaign for the launch in July with print ads focusing on the car's breakthrough technology with the 'Prius Genius' tag line. The car had been featured in Toyota corporate environmental advertising, also in print, since summer of 1999.
Prius ads appeared in such magazines as Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Discover, Popular Science and Audubon. TV spots broke on cable stations including A&E, Discovery Channel and MSNBC on July 31.
'Based on the traffic we're getting on the Internet site, which was heavily promoted in the TV ads, (niche cable) was the best strategy,' says Sturm. Most of the Prius' media budget went to TV and print, Sturm says, but he would not divulge spending.