Lexus readies launch of $50M brand effort

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Luxury leader Lexus is preparing a $50 million brand blitz for January, the nameplate's largest-ever, seven-month effort.

Past brand ads for the Toyota Motor Sales USA division had been limited to a sole TV commercial annually, with most of its effort centered on models. But now Lexus will hammer home its longstanding "pursuit of perfection" positioning in a branding campaign as it awaits its next major new model launch, the hybrid-engine RX 330 sport utility next fall.

The effort is the biggest in Lexus' 14-year history, said Mike Wells, VP-marketing, and comes as the automaker posts record sales. "These ads, in a sense, celebrate and restate our commitment to the pursuit of perfection by demonstrating how Lexus has taken that pursuit to the next level with new innovations and technologies."

recognition

Publicis Groupe's Team One, El Segundo, Calif., created four national TV commercials with an extensive media schedule. In one, a businessman's LS 430 sedan's headlights come on and doors unlock when he approaches. "Any driver can recognize their own car," says the narrator. "But how many cars can recognize their driver?" In another commercial, the narrator discusses how Lexus engineers took an extra step to add quieting panels under the LS, shown flipping upside down in a wind tunnel.

Lexus' single brand TV spot last year showed how the brand helped time-challenged luxury customers "make the most of every moment." That 2002 ad and the 2004 brand campaign are the result of an extensive study Lexus started in summer 2001. At the time, the then 12-year-old brand was developing a map for its future to find the soul of Lexus (AA, July 19, 2001). The automaker's earlier research had shown Lexus, although known for quality and luxury, was still ill-defined in consumers' minds.

Odds are good the new ads may run outside the U.S., said Ann Bybee, corporate manager, advertising, brand and product strategy at Lexus. Taiwan has already expressed interest. She said the timing of the blitz coincides with Lexus' 15th year. "We wanted to celebrate the brand."

time of strength

The move comes at a time of strength for Lexus. Since 2000, it has been the nation's top-selling luxury vehicle maker. Last week, it reported U.S. sales through November rose by 11% to 231,579 units vs. a year ago. A year ago, Lexus reported selling nearly twice as many cars as trucks. But that has changed since the late 2002 arrival of the GX 470 sport utility and redone RX 330 SUV this year. With the top-of-the-line LX 470, sales of Lexus' SUV truck trio jumped 61% to 117,397 units through November, while car sales slid nearly 16% during the period to 114,182.

The 2004 brand blitz is reminiscent of "how we started," said Texas dealer Jordan Case, chairman of Lexus' dealer council. He cited a 1990 commercial that showed the LS 400 sedan's stability as its engine was revved with stacked champagne glasses on the hood. "Lexus always tries to be ahead of the curve."

"The brand is doing absolutely nothing wrong; any way you look at it, Lexus is hugely successful," said Tom Libby, a director of Power Information Network, an affiliate of consultancy J.D. Power & Associates. Lexus' underlying strategy "has been to continually upgrade."

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