Lexus adopts bolder, racier persona in ads
DETROIT -- Lexus' advertising is increasingly taking on the personality of its newest models: racier, more daring and with a hint of fun. A recent ad for the IS 350, for instance, shows a young man bursting into his upstairs neighbor's apartment, and ripping off his shirt to help her control a broken faucet. When her significant other walks in on the wet and awkward scene, the bare-chested Good Samaritan flees the scene at high speed -- in his Lexus.
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The ad's voiceover alludes to the gap between perception and reality, the very gap that the once-staid Lexus brand is trying to bridge as its product lineup begins to tilt toward sporty models aim-ed at a younger audience. Lexus is applying that strategy across several channels. It recently featured Hunger Games star Wes Bentley in an ad for the RC sport coupe and did a Specialty Equipment Market Association-related promotion for the RC via Instagram. It's also expanding its sports marketing presence from the traditional focus on golf to cycling, which is more attractive to young luxury buyers. An earlier series of commercials for the high-performance F line associated Lexus with the deadly sins of lust, wrath, envy and pride.The marketing effort must walk a fine line, says Brian Smith, Lexus' vice president of marketing: projecting a more contemporary image for Lexus, without turning off its loyal customers, who have looked to Lexus not for technology, styling or sports-car driving dynamics but for sterling build quality and quiet, comfy rides.
The IS 350 is part of Lexus' effort to attract younger buyers.
He points to an ad for the trusty RX crossover, Lexus' top seller, that aired across sports, cable, late night and prime time. It shows a young, attractive couple making eyes at each other over the course of a date that proceeds from a cocktail party to a restaurant to a pool hall and ultimately to the bedroom. The tone of the ad changes at dawn, when the sleeping couple's kids tumble into the bed with them. Smith said the ads have been "definitely touching people in a different way." The changing direction of the brand and the advertising "makes sense" and will allow Lexus to better compete with BMW, which attracts more younger buyers, said Tom Libby, an analyst at IHS Automotive. He said that adding edginess won't alienate older buyers, provided Lexus doesn't go too far. If the RX ad hadn't ended in a family-friendly way, he said, it could have stirred a backlash. Still, Jeff Bracken, Lexus' general manager, said the brand must be willing to err on the side of danger. At an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit last month, he cited one customer, who had owned six Lexus vehicles, complaining that the tone of one of the new spots had ventured too far from the Lexus DNA. But without taking such risks, he said, Lexus won't be able to grow. Lexus, which held the U.S. luxury crown for a decade through 2010, is now at No. 3 in the segment, running behind No. 2 Mercedes-Benz, with a recent crop of sportier models helping to narrow the gap. Peter Blackstock, owner of Lexus Monterey Peninsula, in Seaside, Calif., says the new approach will appeal to "a whole new generation." He said the CT hybrid and redesigned IS sedan have been a "huge hit" among younger buyers. "If you look at what's happening with our sales and the products we're getting, the marketing is working," he said.
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