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In the early 1980s, Toyota chairman Eija Toyoda believed it was time for the successful automaker to produce a luxury automobile.  Toyoda projected the idea that this new vehicle would be the “finest luxury car in the world,” as it would offer “speed, safety, comfort, elegance, dignity and beauty” (Lexus).  He also conveyed how this vehicle “had to be accompanied by unprecedented levels of customer service that greatly exceeded the expectations of current luxury car buyers” (Lexus).  This flagship automobile was finally released in 1989, under the brand name Lexus.  According to Lexus, the LS400 has “set new standards for luxury cars around the world” (Lexus).  Nearly twenty-five years later, Lexus has certainly proven itself to be a first-rate luxury auto manufacturer, as it is consistently ranked as one of the most reliable brands, and awarded with having some of the safest luxury cars available.  Although it seems as if Eija Toyoda’s dream has come true, Lexus sometimes appears to struggle with its brand identity. Throughout the years, Lexus has been viewed as the safe, reliable, and even boring choice amongst luxury car brands, which doesn’t offer much soul or passion.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss explains how the core of any advertising campaign is “giving a clear identity to a branded product,” as it makes the brand “stand out from others in this increasingly cluttered” world (Leiss 138).  In an attempt to alter its brand image, Lexus recently launched a multi-faceted marketing campaign, for the car that started it all, the LS.  Released in Fall 2012, this campaign injected some much need passion and soul into Lexus, in hope that consumers would associate new meanings with their automobiles.  By focusing on high taste, style, travel, and sex appeal, this campaign projects Lexus as an automobile company filled with intense emotion and successful consumers, who are not so boring, after all.

One of the main ideas projected in this 2012 marketing campaign is that of the worldly, or cosmopolitan consumer.  In “Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture,” Jo Littler delves into this idea of cosmopolitanism, and how it is appropriated to sell products to consumers.  Littler states how the “term ‘cosmopolitanism,’ derived from the Greek words for ‘world’ and citizen,’ was a phrase developed by the Greek Stoic philosophers, one reworked in the eighteenth century by Kant to evoke an idea of a global community and to gesture, with Enlightenment optimism, towards how it might be  possible to imagine oneself as a citizen of the world” (Littler 24).  She goes on to state how “recently – particularly over the past decade – ‘cosmopolitanism’ has been revisited as an idea in the humanities and social sciences as a way to think about how global forms of connection, sociality and belonging might function in a contemporary context” (Littler 24).  Littler explains how cosmopolitanism “offers an additional and different focus from that of the perpetually exploitative dynamics of ‘imperialism’ or ‘colonialism’, and from a different angle to the existing set of debates implied by the term ‘globalisation’” (Littler 24).  Essentially, cosmopolitanism is now “attractive because it offers what Raymond Williams once termed ‘resources of hope’: because it appears to open up a different kind of imaginative space by gesturing towards ways of thinking about how we might be able to have a positive and dynamic relationship to other people” (Littler 24).

Lexus knew it was time to take advantage of these recently new found meanings and notions surrounding this idea of cosmopolitanism.  In almost every commercial created for the 2012 Lexus LS marketing campaign, well groomed couples can be seen jet-setting all over the world.  The commercial titled “Everything” sets the tone for worldly individuals, as it opens with images of a private plane floating on a body of water.  Seconds later, the commercial cuts to images of people cruising in a speedboat near a place resembling the coast of Europe, particularly the Mediterranean Sea, which is also highlighted in the commercial “Paddleshifters.”  Throughout much of these commercials, couples can be seen traveling at high speeds in the Lexus LS through major cities, like San Francisco, which connotes a fast-paced and exciting life; one typically associated with cosmopolitan individuals.  They can also be seen lounging next to pools, attending fashion shows, and partying at clubs and bars, featuring live music, which signifies interest in the arts and culture.  Doing this aligns Lexus consumers as socially and culturally aware individuals, who take interest in different lifestyles.  It also creates the idea that cosmopolitan individuals have “a positive and dynamic relationship” with others, as these consumers are seen enjoying the company of different peoples and races (Littler 24).  Perhaps the most significant image placed throughout these commercials is that of the passport, however, which appears in the commercial “Flashbulbs.”  Emphasizing a passport, especially while being stamped, solidifies the notion that people seen in these productions are interested in travel, experiencing an array of culture, and most importantly, being a “citizen of the world” (Littler 24).  It creates this idea that consumers who purchase products derived from Lexus are progressive, and one could even say ‘up with the times.’

 

 

While these commercials display consumers filled with worldly intent, they also project the idea of conspicuous consumption.  After all, this campaign focuses heavily on excessive travel and leisure time.  In the book “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” author Thorstein Veblen analyzes how society has come to be obsessed with acquiring and displaying goods as a means to show off social status.  One of Veblen’s main ideas is that people who consume valuable goods are conveying how they have a substantial amount of leisure time available to them.  Veblen states how “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.  As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method.  The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments” (Veblen 47).  This conveys how in order to display wealth, one must purchase goods and have the assistance of others to showcase their grand lifestyle.

This 2012 advertising campaign successfully plays into the notions of conspicuous consumption by projecting images of successful couples traveling the world and attending lavish events.  The commercial titled “Flashbulbs” demonstrates this concept most effectively, perhaps.  Opening with a head-on shot of the 2013 LS, sets the tone, as it places the viewer’s attention solely on the car.  Doing this effectively displays the car’s strong design features and prominent style, particularly the eye-catching LED headlights.  This not only creates the notion that the LS is an attractive automobile, but also that it will demand attention.  Moments later, the commercial cuts to a fashion show, being held at quite an extravagant and lavish venue, featuring grand columns and detailed architecture.  This directly connects to Veblen’s idea that “consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure” (Veblen 47).  Displaying individuals at a fashion show connotes that Lexus consumers have the time, capital, and proper relations to attend such high profile events.  It not only signifies that such consumers have the means to keep up with trends, but also have the time to stay in touch with such interests.

 

In fact, having surplus time seems to be the one of the main themes of this campaign, as consumers can be seen galavanting throughout the world.  As mentioned before, these particular commercials focus heavily on imagery of couples traveling via private planes, lounging at plush pools, attending nightclubs and parties, and simply driving the car.  While doing so, these actors can be seen wearing fashionable clothing and accessories, and living in lavish houses, which signifies wealth and success.  Perhaps the most significant portion of this content, however, is the last scene in the commercial titled “Flashbulbs,” which displays a couple pulling up in the Lexus LS to an event with many photographers.  Creating this scenario finishes off the idea that the LS is a stylish and eye-catching car worthy of driving, as it is photographed alongside the couple.  The decision to produce such elaborate content fashions the idea that people who purchase the LS are wealthy individuals, with important lives and high taste, who will be recognized as being so through purchasing this automobile.

As mentioned, high taste and style are very much apparent throughout this campaign.  This idea of taste is touched upon by scholar Pierre Bourdieu, in his work titled “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.”  One of Bourdieu’s main concepts is that a person’s social social class or upbringing generally determines their interests, likes, and dislikes, or tastes.  Bourdieu states how “cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices (museum visits, concert-going, reading, etc) and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely linked to education level” (Bourdieu 1).  Further on, he contests that there is a “hierarchy of consumers” and that such a thing “predisposes tastes to function as markers of class” (Bourdieu 2).  Knowing this, one could assess that individuals who consume products built by Lexus are of high class.  One of the main indicators of high class consumers is that of the fashion show, as it conveys an interest in and knowledge of high fashion and design.  Typically, people who attend fashion events come from privileged backgrounds, as they are able to afford expensive clothing, and simply have time to ponder over their unique design.  High fashion is full and center in the commercial titled “Walk the Walk,” which features a model slowly walking down a sidewalk, while it’s snowing.  This particular model can be seen wearing a stylish black dress, a fur shawl, long diamond earrings, and stilettos.  Wearing such articles of clothing signifies high taste in clothing, and the ability to afford such things, as these products are typically associated with high class individuals.

 

This commercial, in particular, also speaks to the ‘culturati’, or consumers with high cultural capital.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss explains how “for those with high cultural capital, the cultural aspects of goods overrides their exchange value” (Leiss 520).  Dressing in perhaps a not so practical, but striking dress, signifies that this model is willing to express herself, and has the ability to take take chances as well as understand the cultural aspects of the dress.  Doing this should resonate with the ‘culturati’ as they are keen on purchasing goods which serve as a “form of self expression” and whose creativity can be contemplated with (Leiss 521).  Leiss also conveys how those with high cultural capital assert “a sense of innate ‘good taste’” (Leiss 305).  By placing this stylish and unique female in the commercial, this ad alludes to the idea that the Lexus LS is in ‘good taste’, as well.  Overall, this commercials speaks to high class consumers, as well as those who simply have a strong interest in expressing themselves through fashion.

Along with emphasizing a strong sense of style and taste, this 2012 marketing campaign also garners a fair amount of sex appeal, particularly in its print content, in order to lure consumers in.  The print ad titled “Memorable Performance” exemplifies this sexualized nature, as it showcases a highly attractive couple walking away from their LS.  Although this image may appear to be rather innocent, if one looks closely, some deeper meanings should appear, which can be explained through semiotics.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss states how “Since the 1970s the study of advertising has been heavily influenced by semiotics,” or “the science of the sign” (Leiss 164).  He goes on to explain how the concept of the sign can be separated into two components, “the signifier” and “the signified” (Leiss 164).  While “The signifier is its ‘concrete’ dimension; the signified is its ‘abstract’ side” (Leiss 164). In this specific advertisement, a female can be seen wearing a tight dress, which emphasizes her figure.  Doing this can easily signify sex as well as femininity, however, the female’s position and posture are what’s most important.  This female can be seen staring at the male figure, while standing ever so slightly behind him.  Positioning the female this way signifies strong sexual attraction and even subservience to her male partner.  Perhaps the most interesting portion of this print ad is the text, itself, however.  Highlighting the worlds “Memorable Performance” in bold print can signify that this couple was recently engaged in sexual relations.  This can be reenforced through the female’s overall stance and stare, as well as the male’s seemingly confident strut, which could be a result from having sex with his female companion.

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The advertisement described above is only a portion of the content which relies of sex appeal, however.  A form of marketing which relies even more heavily on sex appeal is a photography exhibit held in San Francisco, called “Lexus: Laws of Attraction” (Paula).  During this event, fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth “snapped prominent couples posing with the cars” (Paula).  Many of the photographs were released on the Internet, which created significant buzz.  Perhaps the most sexualized image from this exhibit is that featuring Devon Aoki and James Bailey.  In this particular photo, actress Devon Aoki can be seen sitting on the hood of the LS, while wearing a playful looking dress.  Aoki seems to be reeling her boyfriend in, as she has her shawl around his neck.  Placing this actress upon the automobile not only signifies that the LS is playful and fun, it also sexualizes its nature.  It creates the notion that this female is a sexual object, which can be toyed around with, like the LS.  Such content can relate to Goldman and Papson’s work regarding advertising titled “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.”  In their work, the authors state how ads have the ability to “socially and culturally construct a world” as well as “promote a normative vision of our world and our relationships” (Goldman & Papson Ch 6.).  This advertisement not only promotes the vision that heterosexual couples are always full and center in media and advertising, it also constructs a world where women are sexual objects, who should be subservient to men.

DevonAoki_JamesBailey_1_6D9BEAE47E69A1D7EAB335DC21A5FAB10BDC8AB5

As one can see, the 2012 Lexus LS marketing campaign effectively makes use of fashion forward consumers, beautiful imagery, high style, and sex appeal to make a new mark in the highly competitive luxury car segment.  Through well produced commercial spots, and high quality print ads and photographs, Lexus successfully shifts their image from the safe, reliable, and even boring car company, to one with great passion and emotion.

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. New York: Harvard University Press, 1984. 1-7. Web.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” Consumer Society Reader. n. page. Web. 14 May. 2013.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising. 3rd. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

http://www.lexus.com/contact/faqs/corporate_info4.html

Littler, Jo. Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. New York: Open University Press, 2009. 23-25. Web.

Paula, Matthew de. “Lexus Pursues Hipper Crowd With New Ads For Its LS Sedan.” Forbes. Forbes, 31 10 2012. Web. 14 May 2013.

Thorstein, Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 43-47. Web.

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The post “Hitting the Accelerator: Mercedes-Benz & The Age of Accelerated Meaning” does a fine job highlighting some of the main points found in Goldman and Papson’s work “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.”  It effectively demonstrates how Mercedes-Benz has played off of common themes and narratives found in society, in order to grab the viewer’s attention.  However, when first watching this commercial, I immediately thought of how excessive the imagery and production content were.  Rather than just referencing common themes and signs found in society, this advertisement is rather guilty of playing into the notion of conspicuous consumption.

In the book “The Theory of the Leisure Class” Thorstein Veblen analyzes how society came to be obsessed with acquiring and displaying goods as a means to show off social status.  One of Veblen’s main ideas is that people who consume valuable goods are conveying how they have a substantial amount of leisure time available to them.  Veblen states how “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.  As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method.  The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments” (Veblen 47).  This conveys how in order to display wealth, one must purchase goods and have the assistance of others to showcase their lavish lifestyle, which is greatly displayed in this ad.

Opening the commercial with the tale of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for something, in this case the Mercedes-Benz CLA, was an effective move.  Doing this places the automobile as a highly sought after and valuable product right from the start.  The most crucial aspect of this scene is when William Dafoe states: “Make a deal with me kid, you can have the car and everything that goes along with it.”  This statement demonstrates how the man will attain a certain lifestyle and be perceived a certain way once he owns the car, which the man envisions right away.  He first pictures himself pulling up in the CLA to a highly publicized event, most likely filled with celebrities.  This connotes how people who drive the CLA are of importance and fit into a glamorous lifestyle.  This glamorous lifestyle is also conveyed in the next scene, which features Usher having a dance off with the man at a club.  At the end of this scene three women appear to be attracted to this man, and are then scene riding in the CLA right after.  The man is then seen appearing on the cover of countless magazines, which can indicate fame and power.  This envisioned dream ends with the man being chased by hundreds of girls and then speeding off onto a racetrack.

The events imagined by the main character truly demonstrate this notion that attaining valuable goods will make people believe you lead an important and leisurely life.  By literally partying with celebrities, like Usher and Kate Upton, the character emulates a life filled with exciting events and wealthy friends.  It places the notion into consumers’ minds that people who own this car also lead a similar lifestyle.  This advertisement is also quite effective at conveying Veblen’s belief that conspicuous consumption mostly takes place in areas “where the human contact of the individual is widest and the mobility of the population is greatest” (Veblen 54).  Conspicuous consumption is prevalent in such areas, due to the fact that many individuals do not know each other.  In heavily populated areas, like New York and Los Angeles, goods essentially act as communicators, and relay information to others.  They have the ability to communicate what social class people are in, or at least want to be perceived as being in.  In this particular case, the CLA relays to people that owners of this car live lavish lives, and will be the center of attention wherever they go, which truly embodies this idea of conspicuous consumption.

 

Since its development, BMW has been praised for engineering some of the most driver oriented cars available.  With stately designs, robust engines, and advanced structural agility, the BMW brand has much pedigree.  Their marketing campaigns have generally focused around this driver oriented experience, with their slogan being “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”  You would think their cars would be able to sell themselves, and they practically do.  BMW is currently ranked as the best selling luxury brand.  However, with changing times companies must also change their objectives and implement new marketing plans.  This particular ad demonstrates one of these changes found in BMW’s marketing campaigns.

In “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning,” Goldman and Papson state how “advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value: brand-name commodity + meaning of image = a commodity sing” (81).  This particular ad is a prime example of boosting commodity brand names by attaching images which reflect society’s growing angst regarding the environment.  Rather than focusing solely on pure driving imagery, and convincing the viewers how their automobiles are second to none when it comes to performance and handling, BMW focuses on clean burning diesel energy.  Now, clean energy is something typically not associated with luxury brands like BMW, so this ad is certainly a departure from the usual.  BMW knew it was time to make a statement regarding the environment though, since Global Warming and alternative forms of energy have been on the minds of people for quite some time now.

The advertisement opens with strong images of fuel exhaust escaping from none other but exhaust pipes, and filling the surrounding air.  People are seen shielding themselves from the dark and intrusive looking exhaust.  These visuals connote an unclean and pollution filled world, one that seems void of environmental awareness.  A few seconds in, a truck driver can be seen coughing up fuel exhaust, which just shows how prevalent it is in our world.  The coughing truck driver can signify not only how we are surrounded by pollution, but also how such things can lead to sickness and disease.  Throughout the commercial several cars from the 80s are seen emitting this dark fuel exhaust, which ties in nicely with the image of the factory seen behind an eighteen wheeler.  These signifiers can perhaps signify deregulation and big business taking little to no responsibility for their actions during the 80s, which BMW would obviously be against.  The yellow station wagon, for example, connotes the idea that bigger is better, and that not much thought was put into creating products which would be alright for the environment.  When the BMW 3-Series equipped with a clean burning diesel engine finally appears, the characters in the commercials are seen staring at the car in awe, which conveys interest and appreciation for such technologies in today’s world.  Goldman and Papson state how state how “Consumer ads typically tell stories of success, desire, happiness, and social fulfillment in the lives of the people who consume the rights brands” (82).  By tying in their product with anxiety felt for the environment, BMW conveys that people who buy their products are consuming the right brand.  They allude to this idea that consumers of BMW are part of a responsible brand, which will make them look socially aware.

Goldman and Papson believe that “Advertisements are always commodity narratives” (82).  This particular commercial narrates that BMW is keeping up with the changing attitudes of consumers in today’s society.  In the past decade, the discussion of global warming and the environment has spurred companies to produce more environmental friendly products.  The car world in general has been a huge component of this movement, with nearly every auto-marker now manufacturing hybrid cars.  Keeping up with the times and adjusting to change is represented no more clearly than in this commercial, which just so happens to be playing David Bowie’s famous song “Changes.”  Playing this song throughout the commercial anchors the idea that this Bavarian auto-maker is certainly paying attention to outside pressures and is willing to evolve.

Post by Kevin

 

In the world of luxury cars, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus have dominated the marketplace for the past few decades.  All three companies have been lauded for producing cars with top notch engineering, advanced safety mechanisms, and posh designs.  This particular advertisement features another luxury car brand, however, known as Audi, which is considered by many auto critics to still be finding its place in the luxury marketplace.  When Audi AG first came into inception, the company prided itself with manufacturing cars equipped with their legendary quattro all-wheel drive system.  As the years passed, however, the automaker didn’t have much luck reaching the sale figures they desired.  The company knew they needed to up their game.  Recently, Audi’s marketing efforts have focused on differentiating their vehicles from the typical or safe choices in the market.

The ad above is a prime example of how Audi has been differentiating itself from the competition.  This particular commercial opens with a high school aged student who is being advised on how to live his life.  The advisor first tells the student that he should attend one of three universities displayed, which are perhaps Harvard, Princeton, and Yale; three of the most prestigious Ivy League schools.  He then goes on to state that the student will attain a job in one of three professions: law, business, or medicine.  The third and most significant statement made describes how the student will purchase a car from none other than Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Lexus.  However, the meeting is then interrupted by the sound of one of Audi’s most beautiful and praised cars, the A5 coupe.  This sound immediately draws the kid’s attention to the window where the sleek coupe can be seen pulling up.  The statement “Consider the cycle broken” then appears on screen, which anchors this notion that Audi is unique.

In Social Communication in Advertising the authors state how “without doing much research, you could conclude that in the last half of the twentieth century one of the most popular ways to market a brand was to position it as the alternative to the current, seemingly “uptight” category leader” (500).  This ad effectively demonstrates this pattern found in the world of advertising.  By creating dialogue focused around conservative ideals, and mixing this with the logos of BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus, this ad creates the notion that these companies are indeed the “uptight” category leaders.  The whole atmosphere of the room connotes a mundane and conservative lifestyle.  The A5, in contrast, appears as fresh car, which has high aesthetic appeal.  By literally illuminating the road with its LED lights, the A5 displays Audi’s new signature design.  Audi has been trying to pave the way for new and innovate design technologies, and as displayed here, the automaker inspires consumers to think outside of the box, and purchase from an alternative company with less pedigree.  It creates the notion that if you do not give their cars a chance, you are perhaps a typical, run-of-the mill person, such as the advisor.

Perhaps the most clever aspect of the ad is that Audi simply associates itself with such respected automotive companies.  By displaying the logos of Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus, Audi puts itself in the same league, which will ultimately make buyers feel good about the company.  Placing these four companies in the same commercial creates an imagined sense of community,  too.  The ad conveys the idea that people who drive these cars are well educated, successful, and powerful.  However, Audi targets luxury buyers who may feel as though they are unique, and acquired success through newer and more innovative careers though.  It attracts the individual who may be more of a Silicon Valley type, than a Wall St. type, or perhaps the businessman who wants to break free from the expected.  As stated by Jim Fowles, “Advertising draws on popular culture’s repository or symbolic material (images or text or music) in an attempt to fabricate new symbols with enlivened meanings” (482).  Audi successfully enlivens their brand symbol by creating this notion that they are the up-and-coming company, which goes against the expected.  They play off of other luxury symbols, in an attempt to make them appear stuffy and uptight.  In this commercial Audi dares you to be different.

Post by Kevin