Human Billboards Prowl Times Square for Toyota

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NEW YORK ( -- Call it the latest twist on a traditional sandwich board. With temporary tattoos affixed to their foreheads, young adults swarmed into Times Square
Photo: Hoag Levins
Peter Klein, 23, who works at the Food Network, and Nancy Noto, 22, a theater student at NYU, were two of the more than 40 people who worked Times Square as human billboards for the Scion tC. Click to see larger photo.

this morning to spread the word about Toyota's Scion and its latest model, the tC coupe.

The one-day effort is the brainchild of guerilla marketing firm Cunning, a London-based operation that opened in New York late last year. Cunning recruited approximately 40 young adults, mostly college students, to publicize the Scion message on behalf of client Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division. The auto marketer is unveiling its tC sports coupe today at the New York Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center.

First forehead work
"This is the first time we've used foreheads," said Brian Bolain, national manager for Scion. The automaker has deployed nontraditional efforts only, developed by its ad agency, Attik of San Francisco, to launch the youth-oriented Scion's initial two models, the xA and the xB. Sales of the latter began last June in California and rolled out in the South, Southeast and East in February.

Jessica Nacinovich, a 22-year-old actress, learned of today's Cunning gig from a friend, and in turn told Josh Tierney, an 18-year-old student at Fashion Institute of Technology. Both reported to the Blue Fin restaurant on Times Square at 9:30 today, where Cunning set up a temporary shop to transform their charges into walking advertisements. Each enlistee's forehead carried

Photo: Hoag Levins
Mark Voysey, head bloke, and Floyd Hayes, creative bloke, of Cunning in Times Square this morning. Click to see larger photo.

one or more of three messages, including the name of the sports coupe, tC; the car's price, $16,465; and the brand name, Scion.

"The point is to raise general awareness of the brand," said Mark Voysey, who bills himself as "head bloke" of Cunning. He added that "there's a synergy of using students to spread the message" about a brand that is aimed at consumers in their 30s and 40s.

'In your face'
In Manhattan to attend a conference being held at a Times Square hotel, salesman Brian Waters appreciated the message. "It is a brilliant campaign," he said. "It's right in your face. You can't help but take notice."

Dan Braun, a electric utility technician from Madison, Wis., visiting the city with his wife and 16-year-old son, also applauded the effort, but when offered mints from one of the tattooed Cunning temps, he quipped, "Do you have any for Lexus?"

"It is a little compromising," Mr. Tierney, the FIT student, said of being human advertising. In addition to sporting the tattoo on his forehead, Mr. Tierney and his colleagues must wear Scion-branded T-shirts and hand out one-by-two-inch packets of mints imprinted with the Scion Web site. Still, the gig, which runs from 10 a.m. through 1 p.m. and focuses mostly on the Times Square area, pays $11 an hour.

Removing the ad
Peter Klein, 23, was enjoying a night out with friends in a bar last night when Cunning's executive "blokes" approached the group with an offer of a temporary job. He refused initially, but reconsidered when his friends signed on. Asked if he knows how to remove the message on his forehead, he said, "No, but I'm a college grad. I have faith I'll figure it out."

Scion expects to sell 60,000 vehicles this year and 100,000 in 2005. The guerilla marketing tattoos are a one-time only effort, for now. Said Scion's Mr. Bolain: "We'll see how it works and take it from there."

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Jean Halliday contributed to this article.

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