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.
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.
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.
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.
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.