Toyota and New york-based Zenithmedia have been working as partners in developing media plans for the edgy Scion brand since 2003. So it’s no surprise that Zenith—known for developing programs for Scion that are distinctively, well, off-road—takes the first-ever award for Best Use of Mobile Media.

“One of the challenges of Scion is to stay ahead of the curve and figure out what will be intriguing,” says Neil Ascher, executive vp, director of communications services at Zenith, which is part of Publicis Groupe’s ZenithOptimedia Worldwide.

In fact, the entire Scion brand is about the ability to personalize the car through customization, says Deborah Senior, national marketing and communications manager at Scion. “It’s like the car is a blank canvas,” she says. So, mass-market media solutions, which are inherently impersonal, don’t work.

But the people at Zenith are always on the lookout for new opportunities. Executives at the California Music Channel, with which the client eventually developed this mobile opportunity, had been talking to Robert Lydon, vp/account manager of local broadcast at Zenith, about advertising for several years; first when the music video channel existed only as a local cable station in the San Francisco Bay Area. Finally, when CMC inked a deal with MobiTV, a company that streams TV channels, Lydon’s interest was peaked, according to Rick Kurkjian, of Oakland, Calif.-based CMC Broadcasting. CMC asked Scion if it would be interested in advertising on its mobile-only “Beat Lounge,” a hip-hop- and R&B-focused channel, which would offer the brand the national exposure it wanted, albeit to a small MobiTV audience.

Senior notes that the deal made sense not only because for Scion the medium is often integral to the message, but because music has also always been an important component of Scion’s positioning. That made it “easier for us to communicate through that new technology, such as a cell phone,” she explains. Scion was able to repurpose an edited version of TV advertising for streaming. Attik, San Francisco, is the brand’s creative agency.

While that in itself was cutting-edge—Kurkjian says it’s the first instance he and execs at MobiTV had heard of where a normal length spot was being streamed over a cell phone—issues such as what part of a $50 million budget should be devoted to the campaign did need to be ironed out. Pricing came down to “Ballpark,” Kurkjian says. “You just come up with a figure that everybody feels [is] agreeable.”

Measurement was difficult too, since MobiTV only had the capacity to track viewers to its service, not to individual channels within the service. Thus, agency and client concocted a contest to track exposure and responsiveness to the campaign. They used the lure of a free iPod, and the tag “Configure your music, configure your ride,” to build a strong association between the iPod and the Scion. Beat Channel viewers could respond either by dialing a phone number, or logging onto the CMC Web site. While not technologically sophisticated, the promo did give Scion and Zenith a window into who was viewing. Of the 170,000 people who subscribed to MobiTV, some 5 percent responded to the contest. Since the contest asked for demographic information, the brand was able to gain insight into who they were. Given that MobiTV users tend toward its news-oriented offerings such as MSNBC, some 48 percent of its users are, for Scion’s goals, a little on the old side, falling into the 18-34 demographic; only 2 percent are the 13-17 year olds that Scion also wants to influence. The contest demonstrated, however, that some 34 percent of respondents to the CMC/Scion contest were in the 13-17 demographic.

But raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. Much of what made this program work was the simple willingness that client and agency shared to give mobile marketing a shot. Senior admits the client had no clear idea of what a good response would be. The idea just seemed like “a really good fit.”

Adds Ascher, “This is a client that’s really willing to take some risks and they realize that some of what they do is going to be rough around the edges.” Catharine P. Taylor is a contributing editor to Adweek Magazines.