Posted by: Dan Beucke on December 12, 2011 at 7:25 AM
Pity the folks at Team One, the unit of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi that works the Lexus account. Each year they have to come up with new ways to show some lucky husband or wife getting a surprise $30,000 to $80,000 Christmas present. And, sure as there’s a red bow on that Lexus, the derisive comments start rolling in. From a Twitter search on “hate lexus commercials”:
“Am I the only one who thinks its entirely impractical to buy someone a car as a surprise gift? I hate those commercials!”
“@MensHumor: If a girl you’re interested in says she likes those stupid “Lexus with a bow” commercials, run.”
“Lexus commercials make me hate society.”
“I literally want 2 punch a hole thru my tv screen.”
People do, in fact, give expensive cars as holiday gifts. December is one of the biggest sales months for Lexus and the other luxury car makers (end-of-year discounting has a lot to do with that). So why all the hate? There’s plenty of lux-car advertising throughout the year, but most of it is aimed narrowly at rich people. In December, the car makers go mass-market in a big way with a more conspicuous message. You can’t watch a football game without hearing the Lexus “Family and Friends” jingle. And they can’t make someone feel good about giving a $70,000 car without reminding a lot more folks that they’ll never give or get one.
That have-and-have-not gap has grown during the downturn. Luxury-auto envy has driven people to violence and odd behavior. Many would like to see a shift in marketing tone. As John Jamele writes on the website “This Commercial Sucks,” “Can Lexus please stop pretending it’s the 1980s, or even the 1990s? I know you’ve got a product to sell, but come on- just a LITTLE sensitivity? PLEASE?” (I asked Nancy Hubbell, a Lexus spokeswoman, if anyone there has suggested the times call for shaking up the 12-year script. She says: “We always evaluate the response to our ads and if they’re not well received or effective, we’ll look to improve them.”)
As grating as it can be to see yet another comfortable couple shoving their success in your face, other automakers have been even more explicit in making the connection between buying your significant other a Christmas car and showing up the neighbors. At the height of the recession two years ago, Cadillac had four wealthy siblings roaring off to visit mom and dad in identical new silver Caddies, shooting self-satisfied glances and later toasting their success. (To quote Jamele: “Because nothing says ‘Christmas’ like a little game of ‘let’s compare bank accounts, stock options and retirement plans’ with those people you grew up with.”) In an Audi ad, a man watched neighbors string up Christmas lights. On the big night, all the homes were festively lit except for his. The garage doors opened, two jet-black Audis rolled out and turned on their LED headlights. Defeated neighbors trudged over to bow to the superior light show.
Don’t expect this to let up. Lexus is struggling to hold its U.S. sales lead against BMW and Mercedes, and has been hobbled by parent Toyota’s quality problems and supply disruptions. And the fact is, luxury car ads work. So if they make your blood boil, hit the mute button. And enjoy the parodies, such as this one from Honda: