NEW YORK (Billboard) - Most of the time, test-driving a car results in nothing more than a sales pitch, automobile envy and a brief sample of that new car smell. But for music fans in select markets, taking a Kia Soul out for a spin gets them something more: a free concert.
The shows are part of an ambitious marketing effort launched by Kia in hopes of attracting a younger audience to its Soul marque, which launched in March.
Dubbed the Kia Soul Collective, events are held on weekends in 10 cities; so far, six have taken place, with four planned for Atlanta, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Recent gigs have featured acts like N*E*R*D, MGMT and Against Me; future shows will include sets from Atlas Sound, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Silversun Pickups.
The campaign also includes a Web site that features a download of an original track by Janelle Monae, branded cell phone and computer wallpaper designed by Jeff Staple and a short film by music video directors Jonas and Francois.
"This is the first time we've done something like this," said Kathryn Cima, manager of sponsorships and events at Kia Motors America, adding that the brand's only other musical venture has been a Vans Warped tour sponsorship. "We didn't start off thinking this would be a music initiative, but as we looked for ways to connect with the target audience, we found that music was a good way to reach them."
Cima said the Soul Collective events have resulted in more than 1,000 test drives. "We don't really have the data to do a one-to-one match in terms of test drives pegged to the events and sales," she said. "But we are seeing a great response, especially in the social media space. People are blogging and Twittering about Kia being cool and the Soul being a cool car."
Even though car sales waned in September, Jeff Tammes, senior vice president of strategic marketing for Cornerstone, said that now is the perfect time for Kia to start building relationships with younger consumers. "The purpose of these events is to introduce the Kia Soul to kids," he said. "Since it's a newer brand, many of them are finding out about it for the first time. While they might not be ready to buy a car right now, when they are, they'll think back to this event and remember the Soul."
Kia isn't the only car company using music to reach younger consumers. Scion and Yaris, both Toyota marques, have each run music-based campaigns for the past few years, and both said they'll continue to use music to build their brands. But they added that they've had to cut back on some of their more ambitious initiatives recently.
Scion sales promotions manager Jeri Yoshizu said that the company continues to sponsor concerts in various markets. "We're doing a garage rock festival in Portland (Ore.) soon, and we'll be sponsoring a metal festival in Atlanta again," she said. "We also do monthly parties and we sponsor the tours of dubstep DJs in third-tier markets."
Yoshizu said she's focused on keeping up the face of the brand while keeping an eye on the bottom line. "We are doing cheaper events," she said. "Touring a group of dubstep DJs is a lot cheaper than getting a big-name rapper with a full band to play a show."
Chad Harp, a marketing communications strategist at Yaris, said the car brand's "Free Yr Radio" campaign also has evolved. "In the first year of the program, we were partnering with Urban Outfitters and local independent radio stations, putting on shows and giving away a free car to the stations," he said. "The second year we were bombarded with requests and had to scale back. Now, we're partnering with the local stations at music festivals and helping them broadcast the show. We're also running shuttles around the festival as a way to get people in the car."
Harp added that his focus is on building a long-term relationship with the consumer. "We don't think people will run home from a festival and buy a car," he said. "What we are looking for with these initiatives is consideration in the future. I want people to see a Yaris and relate it to a positive experience."
Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters