Indie Boutique Toy to Cease Operations

CEO Bologna: 'We Still Haven't Reached the Scale We'd Hoped For'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Four-year old indie shop Toy, New York, is winding down its operations and plans to shutter its doors by late March.

Anne Bologna
Anne Bologna
The agency currently employs 10 full-time staffers and a handful of freelancers and is run by a trio of partners, Anne Bologna, Ari Merkin and David Dabill, who met while working at the defunct New York outpost of Fallon.

"Ari and David and I have always been willing to make the tough decisions, this one being the toughest," Ms. Bologna, Toy's CEO, told Advertising Age. "Though we're still profitable, together we realized that we still haven't reached the scale we'd hoped for, four years into the business. We started, ran and are now closing Toy on our own terms, which, despite its outcome, is something we are deeply proud of."

Toy was launched in 2005 when Ms. Bologna and Mr. Merkin left Fallon to hang their own shingle, a move that caused the Publicis Groupe agency to close its New York outpost. The goal was to offer marketers a nimble alternative to the hulking beasts of the ad world, and Toy hit the ground running, picking up Oxygen Media as its first account. Mr. Dabill joined as partner in early 2006.

The closing comes as a bit of a surprise for a shop that has always run lean, and showed some real momentum in 2009, scoring assignments from popular consumer brands. Toy last year won a spot on Virgin Mobile's creative roster and was named also named to Activision's roster to handle marketing for "Wolverine" and other licensed games.

Other current Toy accounts include: shopping network QVC; music store J&R; the Magazine Publishers of America; Weizmann, a research institute; and Intermedia, the world's largest Microsoft Exchange hosting provider. Between now and March, the agency will focus on wrapping up its obligations with clients.

Toy had a major marketing hit with OfficeMax's 'Elf Yourself' holiday campaign.
Toy had a major marketing hit with OfficeMax's 'Elf Yourself' holiday campaign.
The agency's partners have not yet plotted their next career moves. The closing of Toy means the Big Apple loses another boutique with a strong creative pedigree -- Cliff Freeman & Partners closed in November.

In its short history, Toy scored some major marketing hits, such as the OfficeMax "Elf Yourself" holiday campaign, a breakout viral hit that earned the retailer millions of dollars in media exposure. At its peak, the program had 11 people "elfing" themselves per second.

The agency has also earned a lot of fans, the most vocal of them being Crispin Porter & Bogusky founding partner Alex Bogusky, known to wear a "Toy" T-shirt -- a pretty atypical move for a creative in this competitive industry. Last year, Mr. Bogusky in the pages of Ad Age wrote about the importance of small agencies to the ad community, and as part of the piece heaped much praise upon Toy and the work it produced under his former co-worker at Crispin, Mr. Merkin.

Said Mr. Bogusky in the piece: "Ari is absolutely the most dedicated advertising fanatic I have ever met. A freak. This is mostly a compliment. As a client, it's magic to know this guy is building your brand. ... At Toy, Ari and his team have put together the classic and the new to create amazing campaigns for OfficeMax, YouTube, Macy's and the Oxygen network. The Extended Stay Hotels fart spot is the most elegant and beautiful fart joke ever, and the new J&R campaign has positioned them in my mind as the current kings of the New York City school of creative. But one of my very favorite pieces is the work they did for the Amazon Kindle. I remember opening the package they developed for Kindle and thinking that I didn't want to throw it away. I had to find a way and a reason to keep it around. It's that pleasing."

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