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Owen Peacock, the national brand manager for Scion, calls the little car people love to hate, “the innovation lab for Toyota.” In 2003 Toyota went looking for the most innovative agency they could find to help them launch the Scion xB, a car meant to attract a new, younger audience to the Toyota family. Toyota wanted an agency that was edgy, intense, passionate about design and unafraid to take risks. Most of all they wanted an agency that knew how to reach young people with a street-smart message that didn’t look and sound like messaging. They found ATTIK.

ATTIK knows street smarts. The agency got its start in 1986 just 200 miles north of London on the mean streets of Huddelsfield. The sidewalks, actually. In 1986 Simon Needham and James Sommerville were unemployed art students. Having attended and dropped out of Batley Art College, the duo took to chalk drawing Disney cartoon characters on the sidewalks for anything passersby would throw them. “If we made $200 in a day, we thought we were lucky,” ATTIK’s co-founder and creative director Needham remembers.

Renowned production company Imaginary Forces worked closely with ATTIK’s Simon Needham on these 2009 “Samples xB” spots. Needham says, “These ads energetically combined actual owners’ xBs, xDs and tCs with stock models in ways that conveyed the distinct personalities of Scion’s vehicles and their owners—while also showing how their individuality tied them together.”

Sleeping on couches, bounc­ing around the city’s music scene, the two heard about a grant from the Prince’s Trust to kickstart small business endeavors. In moribund Thatcherite England, this sounded like “free money,” Needham explains. Starting a business was an afterthought. None­theless the two were awarded £2,000, bought a Macintosh Plus and a Reprographic machine, lugged them up to Sommerville’s grandmother’s attic, and ATTIK was born. Armed with ambition, energy, talent and a desire to do good work and get paid for it, a year later ATTIK had nineteen employees. And James and Simon had yet to celebrate their twentieth birthdays.

As the company grew it quickly developed a repu­ta­tion for its willingness to push technology, and an eagerness to smash the status quo. Soon ATTIK moved to London, where its streetwise, brash, cutting-edge design attracted clients like Levi’s, MTV and Nike—the trifecta of youth culture in America. Which meant ATTIK found itself on the short list of agencies invited to pitch Scion.

ATTIK won the Scion account based on its ability to connect with young people, and the strength of its ongoing experimen­tal print project called Noise. Rolled out on an irregular schedule beginning in 1995, Noise is a self-published, four-hun­dred-plus-page, coffee-table book. Using different paper stocks, finishes and printing techniques, Noise is an explosion of energy captured between two covers. Each edition of Noise pushes the boundaries of what can be printed. Not coincidentally, Noise tends to attract clients who also want to push boundaries. Noise is not your typical pitch book. And yet that’s what the execs at Toyota responded to when they put the Scion account up for bid.

“The books display an inherent sense of the company,” Needham explains. “We live and breathe design. ATTIK has always been interested in trendy, edgy design. We had always targeted industries that target young audi­ences. We had a pretty good portfolio; and Toyota wanted to do something different. It was clear we had the credentials to communicate to young audiences in a way that’s relevant.”

Once ATTIK won the Scion account, it became obvious to the London-based agency that someone would need to manage the account from California, Toyota’s US headquarters. “I’ll come over and have a look,” Needham volunteered.

The national launch for Scion occurred in 2003 and by 2006, the brand was already well known for its stylish graphics and VFX-intensive spots. “Bulldog” for the xB was produced by ATTIK by US creative production company Shilo—the first of many collaborations between the two shops for Scion.

When he initially saw the xB Needham’s first thought was, “You’re kidding me, right? How are we going to make that cool?” The cars are nothing if not polarizing. “It’s not all things to all people,” Needham says. In other words, you either think Scion is a really cool little car, or you side with ad critic Bob Garfield writing in Advertising Age, who called it, “a design abomination.”

ATTIK’s essential insight was to embrace the ugliness of the car—its difference and distinction—with an attitude that celebrates what the French call “Une jolie-laide,” which translates as “ugly beauty.” The phrase describes something whose ugliness defines its mag­netic attraction. Which would explain the “want2Bsquare” cam­paign that celebrates all things square, including the Scion xB. One cartoon video meant to go viral and drive viewers to the want2Bsquare website depicts a stick figure who hacks its own round face with a carving knife until it is square. This is not advertising for the faint of heart. Nor for that matter, for adults.

That campaign, much like the car itself, was a litmus test. “We wanted to make a statement with the want2Bsquare campaign,” Needham recalls. “It carries a bit of ‘fuck you’ as well. There’s no middle ground.” You either loved it or hated it. If you loved it, then Scion—and ATTIK—was talking to you.

At launch, Scion defined their target audience as 18- to 24-year-olds. That’s a market that comes with built in constraints, namely that it’s a group that hates being marketed to. First and foremost, Needham says, “We didn’t want to sound like a bunch of 40-year-olds trying to come off as cool to a 20-year-old. It is cheesy and fake. You can’t dictate to kids what’s cool. You have to present the product in a way that’s interesting and fresh. Then let people make a decision.”

Instead of conventional ad campaigns, ATTIK conduc­ted street corner test drives, staged wild postings featuring graphics that looked like they were torn from video game screen­grabs and graphic novels, held art events inside an enor­mous square head that gallery goers walked into, and organ­ized late night events in abandoned warehouses, complete with bands, bever­ages and projected graphics. “Wild post­ings,” Needham says, “are all about content and place­ment. It adds credi­bility to be seen in the right places. It’s like launch­ing a band. You send out the coolest track first to appeal to taste­makers. Once they’re on board, you release the pop song for a mainstream audience. Same as Scion: You launch with credibility.”

ATTIK and Scion teamed with Bunchball, the leading provider of community games for online destinations, to provide a unique game solution for the new Scion xB community site, www.want2Bsquare.com. The ATTIK/Scion partnership scored its very first international FWA “Site of the Day” award for this site in 2007.

In the early days, Needham remembers, the ATTIK events division ran fast and furious. “We supported 200 events a month at $5,000 per event. A small spend was a blessing in disguise, since it ensures you remain credible. Plastic cups, beer and a cool underground band made the events more real, more honest. It felt like David versus Goliath.”

Pursuit of a younger audience meant digital. And that means constant change. As Jacob Ford, creative director for digital in San Francisco’s ATTIK office, explains, “Scion wants us to explore the next new thing.” That means Scion was the first car company to launch in Second Life, the first to explore an augmented-reality driving game, one of the first car companies to film a 3-D ad that ran in movie the­aters to accompany Resident Evil, and soon to be one of the first to release an iAd for the iPad. That energy and change is perfect for Ford, who says, “We think digi­tally, and push the work into different media. Our goal is to extend ideas online so they fit cohesively with the brand. ATTIK has marketing goals. We want to do something cool.” In other words, a perfect fit.

Ten years after the initial Scion launch, Toyota’s relationship with ATTIK is still going strong. Over the decade ATTIK team members have created work that is as edgy, and polarizing as the cars themselves. As Peacock says, “ATTIK brings energy. They are not corporate. They are inherently credible. They aren’t there to glad hand and please. They are there to do good work.”

When it comes to the Scion and ATTIK relationship, Ron Lim, creative director at ATTIK, says simply, “You can’t imagine two more tightly overlapping concentric circles. The ATTIK voice aligns with the Scion voice. We’re a youth agency. And Scion is the youth brand of Toyota.”

Today, the Scion target market may not be hanging out in abandoned warehouses. But they are hanging out on Facebook and YouTube. “Our foray into social media execution really kicked into gear with the launch of the iQ,” Peacock says. “We wanted to take the brand in a new direction. We wanted to show the fun side of the car in a way that would play off the fact that the iQ is the world’s smallest four-seater.”

Focusing on reaching young trend leaders where they hang out has led ATTIK and Scion to many fun places, including The Onion, “Americas Finest News Source.” One innovative HTML5 Scion game from ATTIK was featured in the debut iPad edition of the magazine in May 2011 and, since then, the print and digital editions have often carried the agency’s latest interactive ads, including this 2012 version for the Scion iQ urban microcar.

Lacking the budget for huge media buys, ATTIK made a number of low-budget videos for online only. This approach allows them to produce content quickly, then distribute them on YouTube and the Scion site as online vignettes.

One particular campaign called Donuts, features four bikini-clad women crammed into a Scion iQ doing donuts in
a parking lot and simultaneously attempting to eat donuts and drink milk. As they say, hilarity ensues. So does controversy. True to form, the donut spots delivered by ATTIK have polarized the advertising community. Called “sleazy” by MSN, one of “the year’s crassest ads” by Adweek, and “a porn shoot” by Adrants, the spots were picked up by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun and featured on the Perez Hilton celebrity gossip site. As expected the ads went viral.

“We’ve taken a lot of heat,” Needham admits. Fortunately, that’s just fine with Scion. Peacock says, “As the marketing manager, I know what we want out of a campaign. We give ATTIK the brief and then let them go to their talent. We trust them.” At the end of the day, Peacock believes, “ATTIK is about substance over style. We go after a young audience. You have to be around young people who understand that mindset.”

The 2007 Little Deviant campaign used an array of innovative elements to convey a sensational narrative that underscored the xD’s non-conformist personality. These included a dramatic cinema spot, a custom website, a banner campaign, guerrilla activities and this pop-up Spectacular print ad that appeared in targeted print magazines. A story played out across all elements: The xD itself unleashed monstrous Deviants from underground, and through the campaign website, visitors could join the gremlins in customization...all in the spirit of replacing dreary compliance with vibrant creativity.

Having spent ten years marketing to young adults, it’s a mindset ATTIK understands well. “The thing with girls in bikinis,” Needham laughs, “you put them in anything and you are going to be successful.”

Despite the Babes & Donuts video, Scion it seems has finally grown up, along with ATTIK, and its target audience. Maybe Scion got tired of having its shins kicked in the media. Maybe it just wanted a larger market share. Maybe it saw an opportunity to add a heart pumping, butt-kicking 200hp, rear-wheel drive sports coupe to its line up. For whatever reason, Scion went back to the drawing board, sharpened its pencils, and bent its French curve into a shape that actually resembles a car. The result is the Scion FR-S, a sculpted piece of muscular sheet metal that elicits a jaw-dropping “Whoa!” first impression. In 30 seconds of adrenaline pumping video directed by Needham, ATTIK created a spot that promises to do for Scion sales what Viagra does for men of a certain age.

As the Scion audience matures, Needham says, “The shift is on toward a more meaningful brand. We’re not as flippant or blasé and neither is our audience. These are tough economic times.” Scion has given its audience an “achievable” sports car. ATTIK has given them something to be excited about. ca

Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at sam@wordstrong.com.

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