Toyota, Burrell keep their cool

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Toyota Motor Sales USA's search for a multicultural agency to build its image among youth led it to appoint one of the granddaddies of African-American marketing.

Toyota ended the competition, underway since spring, for its first multicultural shop by naming Burrell Communications Group, Chicago. Publicis Groupe in 1999 bought 49% of Burrell and in 2000 acquired Toyota's general market agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif.

The car maker undertook the agency search for the $25 million account after the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/Push Coalition, upset by a promotional postcard from Saatchi that showed a smiling mouth with a gold tooth crown in the shape of Toyota's RAV4 sport utility vehicle, threatened a boycott of the company.

The move is a significant one for Toyota, which has been trying to attract 20-something buyers to expand its aging owner base. For Publicis, it keeps a key client from going outside the network. But it's perhaps most significant for Burrell, the country's third-largest multicultural agency.

The win offers conservative Burrell a much-needed injection of cool necessary to compete with hot streetwise shops like Omnicom Group's Spike DDB, Bcom3 Group's Vigilante, and dRush, partly owned by Interpublic Group of Cos.

Burrell, with $175 million in 2000 billings and a fixture on the multicultural scene since 1971 with clients such as Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., has been fighting off incursions onto its turf by general market shops as they tap the influence of hip hop impresarios like Russell Simmons.

Burrell's strategy to reinvent itself started in Sept. 2000, when Burrell segmented its expertise into three categories-general, African-American and "Yurban" consumers.

As identified by the agency, Yurbans are young arbiters of cool who have growing spending power and who radiate influence on the world youth market. Burrell's g0al was to leverage its expertise by recognizing the more contemporary and diversified global subcultures in each group and defining how those consumers perceive and buy products and services.

"Everybody is looking for credible ways to merchandise themselves. Yurban is giving us that," said Mike DeMaio, Burrell's managing director-corporate operations.

Said Chairman-CEO Tom Burrell: "It's a very natural progression from where we've been. There's no segment more complex or difficult than the African-American market. If you can speak to that segment, you can speak to any segment."

Since Sept. 2000, Burrell has won Verizon Communications and Adidas basketball shoes and was named General Mills' agency for its $65 million African-American business. Burrell also said it is in negotiations with Hewlett-Packard Co. for its African-American marketing business.

The bulk of Burrell's billings still come from African-American marketing assignments, but Mr. DeMaio said 15% to 20% of its work is now targeted toward the general market.

McGhee Williams, managing director-marketing innovations at Burrell, said most people inaccurately view urban influence as African-American. Rather, she said, "Yurban equals lifestyle and attitude."

There are 10 million urban youth between the ages of 12 and 24 who spent $70.3 billion in 2000 and who influence the the spending of another 40 million American peers, according to Burrell's interpretation of Packaged Facts' U.S. Urban Youth Market Report.

To stay on top of Yurban trends, Burrell created several research tools, including emerging adults and global tween surveys as well as Yurban I.Q. It also created a 20/20 Yurban "immersion" team of street-smart consumers across 30 markets trained to spot ways to authenticate brands through social codes of acceptance and street lingo passwords. Because of the massive influence entertainment has on the youth culture, Burrell sees its future in entertainment.

Contributing: Jean Halliday

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