LEXUS LOOKS PAST TARIFFS

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Lobbyists and PR folks of various stripes were all over Washington this past week arguing for or against the government's planned 100% tariff on Japanese luxury cars. The tariff is itself a kind of PR ploy, designed to pressure the Japanese government to ease the way for more U.S. imports to Japan.

As this is written, the impasse remains. Japan has made no concessions, and the Clinton administration has not bent to pressure to abandon the tariff plan.

That puts the very future of the Big 3 luxury imports from Japan-Lexus, Infiniti and Acura-at risk, and we're now seeing their approaches to crisis marketing.

We like the opening gambit by Lexus, reassuring its U.S. organization that, somehow, they'll survive this, and vowing to keep advertising its marque. Acura likewise says it will hang tough. Infiniti ads are currently hammering away at the relative economy of its new I30 model, but its U.S. unit says that if things aren't settled by the June 28 deadline, it's curtains, with no plans to continue advertising.

Unlike some marketing crises, where competitors might give a company victimized by crime or cruel nature a little breathing room, European and U.S. luxury car makers can be expected to take full advantage of the tariff squeeze. This on top of the fact that the rising yen vs. the dollar and slowing sales have already made the U.S. a dicey proposition for the Japanese high-end cars.

But many marketers have learned that building brands requires consistency, even in times of shortage. Which of these three brands will emerge the strongest from this crisis will depend in some measure on which one keeps its marketing muscle intact.

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