Garfield's AdReview: Toyota finds attractive effort to push the plug-ugly Scion

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Writing an Ad Review for the Toyota Scion rollout is like writing about blimp warfare in World War II. It's a factor, but not exactly the central element of the campaign.

The central element is what the agency and marketer call "guerilla" tactics: street-corner test drives, Internet postings, postcard drops proliferating slogans like "Rage against beige," nighttime urban projector spectacles, et al. (Standard below-the-line activity, really, but that doesn't sound very Che Gueverra, does it?) Anyway, the Scion launch is all about communicating with young buyers in non-traditional ways. And, superficially at least, the advertising does, too.

Each of three TV spots from Attik, San Francisco, looks at Scion from the point of view of various edgy actors on the cultural stage. One shows the xA and xB models herking-jerking along a fanciful street that could be right out of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; another the work of a lighting designer using a Scion, gorgeously, as his canvas; another a pair of "freerunners," those urban daredevils who make obstacle courses of city architecture.

Then, the perfect double entendre tagline: "What moves you."

It's engaging viewing, despite the maddeningly fleeting and distant images of the cars themselves. But that may be intentional-not just because of Generation Y's notorious music-video attention span, but because the car, at least the xB model, is plug ugly. An eyesore. A design abomination, the synthesis of a 1923 ice wagon and the clown car from the Shrine Circus.

It's so ugly... so ugly... jeez, maybe so ugly, it's cool. You know, like those old `70s Qiana shirts and Lyle Lovett.

The greater challenge may be the positioning itself. "Rage against beige" is an undeniably clever articulation of the nonconformity ethic, but hardly a novel concept, in the auto category or anywhere else. From Saab to Subaru to Saturn, from Dr Pepper to Stroh's Signature, from Camel Filters to Borkum Riff-there is always some marketer portraying itself as a different drummer seeking proud individualists to march along.

That, in turn, suggests the inherent paradox-not to say hypocrisy-of expressing your individuality through the purchase of a mass-produced product.

But let's give credit where credit is due. In the annals of the mass marketing of individuality, Scion is the least hypocritical of all. First of all, unlike Saturn's bizarre current claim that its L series is somehow a breed apart, the Scion is genuinely distinctive-in approximately the way a goiter is distinctive. Furthermore, it can be outfitted with 40 options, to make your incredibly unsightly xB incredibly unsightly in a different way than your friend's incredibly unsightly xB.

You can, in other words, help design your own car to move you-just as the artists in the commercials interpreted the cars' appeal based on what moved them.

Of course, once the novelty wears off, the custom-option scheme may present challenges for dealers who want you driving off in your new ride on day one. So far, sales are strong, but let us not forget: Before there were blimps, there was the Hindenberg.

Toyota Scion

Attik, San Francisco

Ad Review Rating: 3 stars

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