Toy hits the ground running with Oxygen

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What does a stale ad agency world need? Anne Bologna and Ari Merkin hope it's a new Toy.

Five months after resigning their posts at the head of Fallon Worldwide's New York office-a move that caused the Publicis Groupe agency to shutter the outpost this summer-the duo are back, as promised, with a boutique agency designed to give marketers another nimble alternative to ad giants. Toy, as the agency is called, is now a six-person outfit whose first big task is to help Oxygen Media differentiate itself among female-targeted media brands.

Toy picked up Oxygen's account as its first piece of business following a review that included independents Modernista and DeVito/Verdi. Oxygen will launch a new branding campaign early next year, focusing on the cable network's upcoming original programming in a blitz that will run in TV, print, radio, out-of-home and nontraditional outlets.

For Oxygen, the idea is to capitalize on recent ratings growth and increased brand awareness. Oxygen has gone from a 0.1 rating last year with 72,000 viewers aged 18-49 to a 0.2 rating at 117,000 viewers in that age group. Executives there declined to disclose spending figures.

Ms. Bologna and Mr. Merkin's new project is yet another nod to the small-agency renaissance sweeping the business. Big marketers like Coca-Cola Co., Motorola, and McDonald's Corp. have been increasingly willing to open their rosters to relatively tiny players offering fresh ideas and lower costs. These agencies aren't subject to restrictions sometimes placed by the holding companies on things such as compensation models.

Unlike others in the category, though, Ms. Bologna isn't trying to distance Toy from the ad agency model. What Toy is meant to offer is an improvement on that model.

not a freelance model

"Agencies are too insular and they usually end up recommending to clients that which they can make," Ms. Bologna said, explaining that the agency will consist of a group of "big, integrated thinkers" and will contract with other agencies for certain executions. "It's not a freelance model, though."

There are four partners in total, with Ms. Bologna and Mr. Merkin controlling a majority of the business-what she called a "benevolent dictatorship." She declined to name the other staffers, saying that some of them are still in other jobs.

Toy's creative approach will be similar to the kind of work the pair is known for: big ideas that can live in a number of media. "We think the strategy should be good enough to show-kind of like a good bra."

Said Oxygen Senior VP-Marketing Cynthia Ashworth, "They don't just advertise products; they do advertising that gets people talking."

At Fallon, New York, Ms. Bologna and Mr. Merkin handled about $100 million in billings, including Virgin Mobile, Starbucks' Frappuccino, Time magazine and Georgia-Pacific's Brawny paper towels.

Their dynamic even served them well in coming up with the agency's moniker, which is meant to be signify something that's engaging and inspiring. "I wrote the brief and Ari came up with the name," Ms. Bologna said. "That's our pattern."

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