The targeted e-mailing to 15,000 potential converts, culled from visitors to Lexus' Web site, may be a new twist in car marketing.
"As far as we know, it hasn't been done before," said Scott Gilbert, co-chairman of Team One, the El Segundo, Calif., agency for Toyota Motor Sales USA's luxury division.
Spending for the 52-week campaign for the redesigned version of the marque's entry car will be on par with the budget for the relaunch of the flagship 1995 LS 400, said Steve Sturm, Lexus corporate marketing manager.
The ads, productions told from the point of view of "the road," are themed "The road is calling. Answer it."
The ES line has accounted for about half of Lexus sales since the division opened. Lexus cut the price of the '97 model by $2,500 to $29,900 and hopes to sell a record 43,000 ES 300s this model year.
This is the biggest ES campaign ever, intended to build the model's image and court a slightly younger customer. The ES 300 "isn't a baby Lexus by any means," said Steve Levit, associate creative director at Team One.
TV starts Oct. 10 with eight spots across NBC's vaunted Thursday prime-time block. The TV buy will include other high-profile sports and entertainment programs on network, spot and cable.
The ES 300's target prospect-46 years old, $100,000-plus income and, 60% of the time, male-tends to be "appointment viewers" who watch a limited number of programs, said Bonnie Chan, Team One communications director.
Team One produced three 30-second national spots and one dealer spot. Celebrity voice-overs dramatically intone the pleasure derived from the arrival of the new Lexus on the road.
California's 17 Mile Road (Demi Moore) talks about how long it's been since someone new "hugged me, caressed me and excited me."
"The woman is just reeking of sexual desire," Mr. Levit said.
Other thoroughfares are Wall Street (Charlton Heston), a German autobahn (Jeremy Irons) and Fifth Avenue (Kelsey Grammer).
Lexus is using the distinctive voice of Mr. Grammer just weeks after he rolled his Dodge Viper over, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and entered the Betty Ford Center.
Mr. Sturm said he doesn't see a problem in being associated, noting, "We're not selling him on the road. We're selling the road."
Print ads begin this month in auto, business and lifestyle magazines, with gatefolds in 14 titles and spreads in 40.
Lexus mailed current owners a brochure and bill stuffers in August. It sent e-mails to about 12,000 owners who have registered on the Lexus Web site (http://www.lexus.com), where visitors can take an ES 300 for a virtual spin. It also is sending e-mails to 15,000 registered site visitors who drive other cars.
Lexus will run banner ads on Internet search and content sites to drive traffic to its site.
Responding to research, Lexus sent promotional materials to owners more than a month before the product and ad launch in a sharp departure from past efforts to bring all communications out with one big bang.
Lexus owners "tell us they're entitled to hear new information" before ad campaigns begin, said Michael Hughes, director of relationship marketing at Team one. Lexus has a loyal customer base: 65% of owners eventually buy another Lexus.
Mr. Gilbert said the new campaign marks the first time Lexus and Team One have pulled together so many marketing tactics for a car launch.
"A great TV campaign really makes an impact," he said, "but it's not enough anymore."