If you’re anything like me, you’ve welcomed the last five years of Scion’s patronage of metal with a mix of gratitude and suspicion. No doubt, they’ve made it possible for fans to hear new tunes and see lives shows from some of the best bands in extreme music, usually at zero cost to all parties involved. Still, I’ve got lingering doubts that any corporate brand could truly believe that supporting a niche genre like underground metal will be a huge boon to its bottom line.
But as I explored with Pig Destroyer’s Scott Hull for the Killing Is My Business column in Decibel issue 115, getting money from a big brand is one of the few revenue streams for artists that seems to be growing, not shrinking. And as long as you don’t have to change your art, maybe there’s no difference between slapping a Red Bull logo on your album and slapping a record label’s logo on your album.
I talked to Scion’s Manager of Marketing Strategy, Jeri Yoshizu, about the past and future of their relationship with the metal community.
Why did Scion first start working with the metal community?
The first time we worked with a metal roster was at SXSW. It was Motörhead, Napalm Death and a few others. The reason that we did that roster is because we were working with rap – Wu-Tang, Rakim, everybody in that “heritage” category – and other car companies started to come in to the rap area. We needed to become a multi-faceted lifestyle brand, vs. just the rap brand. Strategically, metal was the area that virtually no brands were in, unless you were Metallica or a big Grammy-winning act like that. We identified there was an opportunity for an un-served audience.
Were there branding techniques you saw other companies using that Scion wanted to move away from?
The festival-level sponsorship was not working. So SXSW, at that time, was really critical because, year after year, we were putting a lot of effort into putting on these big shows. We weren’t getting any press, and this was before social media was really the standard. I decided to put on our own festival, which was Rock Fest in Atlanta [in 2009].
Was that the one that Mastodon headlined?
Neurosis and Mastodon. If you look back at Scion, we were at a lot of conventions and conferences. That stuff doesn’t work for branding if you’re not the massive owner of the conference. We got a lot of foot traffic, and we were getting a lot of RSVPs and e-mails, but at the end of the day, it would come and go. There were so many other things going on that people would be like “Then I went to the Vice party. Then I went to the Fader party. Then I went to this, and that.” You just become a brand du jour at the conferences. So we got out.
Have you discovered a metal band while working with Scion that you’ve really fallen for?
I’m a mood person – I’m not a fanboy. If I’m in a mood and a song comes on, and that song makes my mood better, I’m like “Wow, what is this?” “It’s Franki Valli, Jeri.” But we did a project with Magrudergrind and I’d never heard grindcore before in my life. It was in Columbus, OH at the Rock Fest, in the grindcore room. I was so excited about the energy in the room. It was so exciting that we did a record with them!
You know who was really amazing? Terror, in Tampa’s Rock Fest, was badass. Oh, and Hot Lunch at last year’s. I like more rockin’ music. Church of Misery was really good. The guy that was singing fell off the stage, and he wouldn’t stop singing! Remember, I don’t go out that much. But if I’m working, I try to see everything for like two songs.
Your traditional branding deal involves a billboard, with Beyoncé holding a Pepsi can on it. It’s a very direct connection that implies endorsement. Can you explain a bit about why Scion wants to do things differently?
The area that I work in is lifestyle and social media. I am not in the traditional advertising space, and that’s what you’re referencing with Beyoncé. Scion, from an advertising perspective, focuses on the product. We wanted the target audience to discover the brand – that was the original premise – and say “That’s a cool brand, because they’re doing things different.”
With the lifestyle initiatives, traditionally – like if we’re talking about Toyota – they would sponsor a massive action sports tour, give away keychains and bags, stuff like that. Scion took that money and said “Let’s produce music.” And then the initiatives grew from there. That’s a very fundamental level. It’s really “What can we make, what can we brand on it, and what’s most likely going to grab people and be different?” That is music. Not stadium sponsorships and Beyoncé with the can.
We had to be very creative with what we had to plan out, get the impressions, all that stuff. Because we are a smaller brand than Toyota, we had to be really deliberate with our branding and messaging. It looks to a lot of people like we don’t care. But we craft and strategize every single dime we spend to make sure we’re getting something out of it.
What does Scion get out of it?
Top-of-mind [awareness]. Brand consideration. When you talk to an academic advertising person, they throw [around] all of those elements, because that’s the path to purchase. When you look at a traditional model like Toyota, there’s probably some stadium in your town that’s got Toyota plastered all over it. You go there enough, and you’re like “There’s that red logo on the white background. Toyota’s got great cars.” You drive around your town, you see the dealerships, and then when you’re ready to go and buy, guess what? You think top-of-mind, and you pare it down from there.
Scion’s the same way, it’s just that we’re going after a smaller target market that’s different from Toyota’s, who need to be influenced by creative communities and creative initiatives, vs. a repeating of the logo over and over again. It’s a different person.
For example, we go to Columbus, Ohio. We have Rock Fest. Scion takes over the town. We get social media out of it. We get the reputation with the bands, the labels and the management teams. We get press. And from there, it’s a slower path to get to car sales, but that, builds loyalty and that top-of-mind. We’ve looked on a lot of blogs. We’re constantly looking at what people are talking about Scion whenever we do a release or an event. And the feedback you always see is kids saying “They’re supporting the community,” “It’s a free show,” etc.
We’re not going to work with a Taylor Swift, because she is a much different type of artist in that she has a machine behind her. A lot of kids out there think that “If you’re working with Taylor Swift, you get to talk to her.” The management team – they’re in all the meetings. When we’re working with High on Fire, Matt Pike is the guy. I’ve run into him a couple times – I’m sure he doesn’t know me by name – but he says positive things to me, like “Thank you for treating me with respect.” That means a lot to me as a marketing person, because it’s sincere and it’s authentic, not “Go and shake their hands so you can get more money.” That carries a lot of weight for his community.
Is there anything you weren’t expecting about the metal community that you’ve learned over the past few years of working with them?
Yeah. They’ll stick up for Scion in a conversation. That was very surprising to me. That was worthy for me to print out and show to my upper management. They defend a brand, and they can distinguish between “selling out” and “artists need to pay bills.” We didn’t see any of that with the garage rock kids. We’re out of garage, because those people really did not stick whatsoever. It’s the same with dance kids. But the rock and the rap categories, you have loyal people. They talk about you. The artists are extremely grateful, so they always say positive things about Scion. And we hear this. The Melvins get interviewed, they always talk about Scion and what a good experience it’s been.
The metal audience, they get it. The guy that they work with is in a band. So they’re very in tune with their opinions. It’s always grounded – it’s never “Duuuude! You gotta keep it real!” You know, it’s whatever it takes to keep playing music and doing what you love.
Do you have benchmarks for success? If you sold X number of cars at the end of a certain time frame, would you pat yourself on the back, say “Job well done, let’s move on to something new?”
No. You have to juxtapose this conversation with what advertising does on TV commercials. You can never say that one area in the marketing plan sold cars. They could have released a finance package that month. Ad agencies would like to take the credit, but if Toyota’s putting out a massive incentive package for a Tundra, and there’s also a TV campaign, you can’t say “The TV campaign killed it.” Everything has to work.
In my area, we measure what everyone else measures. You want to know how many people read your article, right? We look at impressions, clickthroughs, we look at anecdotal conversations people are having online, we measure brand awareness, we measure consideration, we measure brand sentiment.
We’ve been tracking a bunch of measurements for three years. We can see there’s a lift. It’s not immediate, but the wave comes. Even by the most miniscule points of increase, we’ll see that, and we discuss it. For my job in particular, it’s really about what people are saying in the digital environment. It’s never about attendance. It’s all about what are people saying afterwards, what are people saying before, are people like you guys writing stories because we’re intriguing, are you guys writing about our artists.
The other great thing is when an artist starts doing really well. That’s really exciting for us.
At the end of the day, you’re trying to sell cars. At what point do you have to prove that the metal community is buying cars? When do you introduce cars to the metal community, as opposed to just your name, your sponsorship?
Scion’s a car company. We have little things, like you have to RSVP for an event and when you RSVP, it’s on the Scion website. So yeah, the name is always there. We have band cars; we let bands take the cars on tour. We hope that everyone is watching TV and reading magazines and they see the name associated with the car. We’re doing more content with cars in them, with the talent, with the music. We had cars at Rock Fest. We’re integrating more, but you’ll not see a car on stage. So it’s subtle, but not to the point that it’s invisible.
A lot of people are like “I don’t really associate Scion with cars.” I have to take that as a compliment, because lifestyle marketing does not drive a campaign. If it’s Home Depot, everyone has to put the brand there, right? But your TV advertising, your website have to reinforce that. You’re just being targeted.
All these things have to collude to make a potential buyer think a certain way about a brand before they’re gonna put their money there.
There are a couple articles out now that talk about what gets a person to buy a product. Number one is always that it’s a good product. But as technology starts becoming the same for everybody, brands are gonna start coming up again as important. Why would you buy this app vs. another app? Why would you buy this phone vs. another phone? Is it price?
There are all these things that come into play, and one of the things that’s starting to be talked about is what does that brand stand for. The articles are discussing what it takes to get a person to buy if everything’s the same. Brands have to do more lifestyle, more experiential marketing to get people to see if there’s something [other] than just a device that does everything every other device does.
You might say that Scion has introduced the idea of patronage into metal. Patronage has existed for centuries in some form or another – you would have a king, or the church, paying your bills so you could concentrate on making music. Does Scion think of itself in that way right now?
There are so many things going on that we don’t sit around [saying] we’re patrons of the arts. We support the creative community, whether it’s in music, art, fashion, food…we keep it moving. We want to be a part of somebody’s career, but at the same time we understand that they’re hard working, and if something great happens, we can’t be looked at as the sole reason it happened.
Giving a band a shot is a big deal for an artist. We all know how neurotic artists are about everything they do. The way they look, the way they sound, what their words are, everything. We’re very sensitive to that, so we try to make it as painless as possible. I think that’s our biggest contribution, is being there for a lot of these artists, managers, everybody they need some guidance. They appreciate us giving them hotel rooms when we’re doing a show. Everything we do, we make sure that they understand they’re being taken as seriously as we would take a major artist.
How do you find the bands you feature for a Rock Show, or fund for recording?
Beyond Marketing handles all the A&R. The guys at Nuclear Blast, Relapse Records, everybody is part of the mix. We’ve had interesting discussions with Rennie [Jaffe, VP of Relapse Records] and Gerardo [Martinez, Label Manager at Nuclear Blast] and Gordon [Conrad, Label Manager at Season of Mist] from a business perspective about their target markets. I’ve met a lot of great record labels, and a lot of great record label managers, who are targeting the same people we’re targeting. So it’s great to get these people in a room, and discuss with them what they’re going through. That’s been a great part of my job, talking to people that are in that area. They really understand what kids are into, what bands are coming up, what bands are a headache, and which ones are great to work with.
Everybody talks, and Beyond does a great job of filtering through. I have my objectives, and I let them know “I need bands that are touring.” They go ahead and find those bands, and we work with them.
Let’s talk about the money behind that. When you approach a band about recording an album, or sponsoring a tour, do you give them a budget?
There’s a deal conversation that is in the beginning of that [process]. We break it into three tiers, dependent on how big the band can draw, or how many records they can sell. We’re not gonna give High on Fire the same rates that we would give someone who’s putting out their first record. It’s very black and white, and people can take it or leave it. Mostly people take it. It’s very fair, and it’s a licensing deal. We don’t own anything. We handle all the marketing and PR and distribution.
So you’re not asking for any publishing or back end.
No. We sell cars. We don’t sell music.
You could sell the records you put out, distribute them in stores, rather than just hand them out at Scion shows. Is there any thought to monetizing the recordings in the future?
There is no plan. If we had to sell music, then we wouldn’t be doing music initiatives, since everyone would get it for free somewhere. Then I’d have to report back [that we earned] $150, and they’d say “Why are you doing this?”
Do you pitch these songs to film and TV?
We have an exclusive period. They cannot work for an automotive company, obviously, but they’ll say “Hey, this video game wants to use it…” and we’ll say “Great. Can you make sure it says Scion in the credits?”
In those initial talks, what do you tell the artist that they’ve gotta do for you in return?
We let them know all of our restrictions. We try to avoid artists that are negative, that show anti-whatever, as much as we can. Then we start doing the artwork, and they say “We just want to put this pentagram in there.” We’re like “You can’t really do that.” We put that all up front.
We did a deal with one of the labels and they had an image of them burning money, which is an illegal act. We went back and forth a couple times, and I said “You know what, I don’t want this to turn sour. We’ll just do a kill fee. You guys can do whatever you want with the record, and I’m totally fine.” We walk away. If there is a band that does something obviously negative, like putting swastikas in their artwork, we’re not going to support that. We have a list of “Here’s what we stay away from.” And if they don’t want to do it, that’s totally fine. They don’t have to work with Scion, we don’t have to work with them.
Scion is not here to change your art. I do not want to be responsible for anybody changing for whatever contract we write. So don’t change because you’re not going to get money from us. You decide what you want to change, not Scion. And there’re no hard feelings.
We had an issue with Integrity. Dwid [Hellion] is the most awesome dude ever, and in the end, he’s still around, they’ll play at a show. If the Scion logo is on their product and there’s Charles Manson on the cover, I can’t do that. But I respect him, and he respects Scion. There’s no controversy. That’s how it goes.
Scion’s model of corporate patronage is being talked about a lot as the wave of the future. Do you think finding a brand to sponsor your album might become a viable model for artists?
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I do feel that crowdfunding, raising money, finding investors is all in the same camp…it’s getting creative with raising money so that art can continue. What I would advise is to be very clear about what you’re signing up for, in both directions. We signed up to work in metal, but we’re not gonna make everybody happy. Labels, if you sign up with a corporation, there’re rules.
In the old days, everyone was really young doing art. And now nobody wants to age! So they gotta pay the bills, right? How do I do this for the rest of my life? The talented people that are savvy are gonna keep it moving. And they’re going to be able to write music when they’re 60 years old. Then there will be people that did it for a certain part of their life because they had kids, they had jobs.
I just saw Black Sabbath in the fall. And how old is Ozzy Osbourne? And everyone in the audience was 50! I was really impressed, because they sounded great. It’s not like seeing our parents’ acts, playing at horse tracks. They were playing at a massive venue, and it was awesome. That was the best show I saw last year. What is it gonna take for you to be an artist for the rest of your life? You have to raise money, or it’s a hobby.
Right – who’s gonna support songwriters through thick or thin? And how are they gonna help themselves get through all these industry changes?
We did a garage rock movie with Vice, and that year Jay Reatard died, Lux Interior [of The Cramps] died and Alex Chilton [of Big Star] died. No one heard about Alex Chilton for years, and then he died. You hear about Ozzy Osbourne every three months! I don’t think any young artist is like “I’m gonna do this until I’m 28, and then I’m going to disappear into obscurity.” It’s a brutal industry, but there’re people who have made it their life to dedicate to it in some way or fashion, and they haven’t given up. But [surviving] is about making money to support yourself.
I tried to do an initiative where we addressed the aging rap artist area. These guys are not going to the doctor, they’re getting sick, they have bad health, they don’t have health insurance. They’ve spent all their money. What do you do about that?
Is it okay to sell your record away when you’re 20 years old for $25,000 and then it’s a hit for the next 100 years? Young people do not think about that, and that’s the age-old problem. They don’t think about the future. But if they want to be artists for the rest of their lives, maybe they should start thinking about it.
Have you ever approached a band that declined to participate in a Scion project?
Yes. ::laughs:: I’m not going to tell you who it is, but [after they initially declined our offer], we booked Motörhead, and they were like “Can we open for Motörhead?” And I said “I thought you don’t work for corporations! So no.” It happened one time.
Why do you think they would have said no to a corporation like Scion, but record labels are still fair game?
I think they were an exception. Labels, you know what, it helps them out. We hear from Gerardo at Nuclear Blast all the time: “You guys are really helping us to get this done and that done. It’s great.” It’s good for their business, marketing-wise. They can put out more records when Scion is helping them pay for one of the records they’re putting out.
What about for consumers? Do you think what Scion is doing is great for a music consumer too, in the long run?
To be honest with you, I don’t think a lot of consumers really understand why it’s beneficial for everybody. They’re in the moment, they like the music. I think the awareness for how hard it is to have a band, to sustain a band, needs to go up for more people to understand that the reason artists take money from a corporation is very common sense and rational. The awareness will go up, the audience, the consumers will have more respect for the relationship. I think at some times, it’s about immediate gratification: “I got a free show!” They don’t think that far about how it helps the bands to keep it going [when] they get sponsorship for a tour.
The concern that I have is that consumers are getting so used to getting stuff for free, whether it’s a CD handed out at a Scion show, or going to Spotify, that they assume it’s free to make, and there’s no need to support an artist in any kind of direct way.
I feel that a lot of things have happened over the last 15-20 years with digital coming in, really changing a lot of things. That’s not Scion’s project, right? But we have an opportunity to align ourselves with music, and the art community, and we’re doing the best that we can to be authentic and true to the Scion brand. That’s why we are in metal, rock and rap. Because it aligns with the brand.
That kid who’s been standing in line, watching when we do metal shows in Pomona, and hearing that kids were standing in line from 4 o’ clock? That’s amazing to me. Tell me that’s not supporting the artist community. And buying their t-shirts – we let all of our artists have merch booths. Putting vinyl out, and CDs, and patches, all that stuff. Kids still want to spend money. Labels have to get savvy about what they can profit off of.
Do you hope that other companies follow your lead?
Yeah. I really hope that other corporations do the same thing. I’ve been saying that for a while. It’s a lot of work, but I feel like everybody in the industry I’m in, we have jobs, and we have to be excited about going to work every day. If I’m in lifestyle marketing, I want to do the right thing for the brand. But if I can do the right thing for the brand that hires me AND I can make people want to do artists, or want to be excited to play a show or put out a record, it’s very fulfilling. And I would hope that other corporations would follow suit and not do the “burn ‘n turn” model, which is “Okay, let me get Lars to be in a TV commercial doing a voiceover,” and that’s it.
At the end of the day, good art is subjective, and it means a lot to somebody to get a break. I think all corporations should be looking at the future of art in general, and what’s gonna happen when nobody’s making music anymore to put in TV commercials, because it’s dried up because the industry shrank. But thank god there’re a lot of entrepreneurs out there that are getting on Bandcamp and social media and putting up [their music on] Spotify. It’s always gonna be out there, but if a corporation can be positive and be a benefactor, or make it so that they’re benefiting the scene, it’s better than keeping it into the tiny ad agency world and re-circulating art on a commercial level. I think it’s important that everyone consider it. They need to take those risks.
On this side of the fence, it’s very difficult to have that conversation if you have doubt. That’s why Chrysler works with Eminem. He’s sold millions of records. People know him. So they work with an act like that. And when you look at that, they gotta sell a product, they want people to identify with that product.
At the end of the day, is it riskier to work with High on Fire? Yes! 100%. Corporations still have to make their bottom line, but if they want to be innovative and take some risks, hopefully they can get into that area. If they don’t, the world keeps turning. Innovation does have to be [limited to] electronics. It can be how you’re positioning your brand once in a while.