Parlez-vous Francais? You'll need a rudimentary understanding of the French language to appreciate the TV advertising campaign for the new Lexus SC 430 hardtop convertible.The convertible - the first ever offered by Lexus - made its debut at the Detroit auto show in January and will go on sale March 15.
The new campaign is part of the continuing effort to inject passion into the Lexus brand. The theme is 'Parlez-vous Desire?' and will be integrated into all communications, which include TV, print and cable. The use of outdoor advertising is being investigated.
Staying with the European feel established by LS 430 ads set in the Italian countryside, the campaign will create the illusion that it is set in France and will be sprinkled with French words, says Denny Clements, group vice president at the Lexus Division. Clements says the French words are ones everyone will understand.
According to Lexus, the exterior design team traveled to the French Riviera to 'study elegance, beauty, class and richness. While there, the team spent several weeks observing culture, design of clothes and accessories, lifestyles, tastes and home interior designs.'
Lexus chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa says some of the lines of the SC430 convertible were inspired by yachts.
With the heavy influence of French culture and lifestyle, the setting and use of the French language for the campaign appear to be natural. Although the commercials supposedly are set in France, shooting actually took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, due to weather.
The use of the French language is designed to 'appeal to the romantic side of the SC 430 customer,' says Clements. 'The campaign is designed to evoke passion for the car. It's a car we hope will elevate the entire brand.'
According to some analysts, the SC 430 could become the halo vehicle for the Lexus brand - although it may not turn a profit.
'The premium sporty luxury market has never been a volume segment,' says Kay Polit, a principal at the A.T. Kearney consulting firm. 'Sales are as low as 3,000 to 4,000 units. A five-figure sales year is a major accomplishment in this segment. These vehicles have to be priced for margin.'
Tom Libby, a director at J. D. Power and Associates, foresees similar challenges. 'Lexus is going to have to be patient,' he says. 'The SC 430 has a to be an image leader. As such, it may take a vehicle that by itself is not profitable.'
Polit questions whether customers accustomed to the styling and cachet of Mercedes SL models and the Jaguar XK8 will perceive the Lexus as an alternative.
'This is not an easy segment for Lexus to be in,' Polit said. 'This segment is image-oriented.' As a result, he said, some customers accept lower levels of quality and customer service in exchange for the style and image.
Critics have said Lexus, while offering high vehicle quality and excellent customer treatment, has produced vehicles that lack passion. Lexus is trying to counter the criticism, as shown by its new tag line, 'The passionate pursuit of perfection,' with 'passionate' replacing 'relentless.'
Debut is March 15
The campaign is scheduled to debut March 15. It will include a co-marketing campaign at the top 15 Neiman Marcus stores, where the vehicle will be displayed.
Clements refused to discuss the marketing budget for the SC 430 convertible, stating only that it is a major launch. Major launches generally run upwards of $50 million; for example, Lexus spent $28.2 million advertising its new IS 300 between initial ads in May and Aug. 31, according to Competitive Media Reporting. But the budget for a low-volume vehicle such as the SC 430 probably would run about half that figure.
Lexus will aim the SC 430 at buyers 45 to 55 years old with household incomes of $170,000. The base price for the SC 430 convertible has been announced at $58,455, making it the least expensive convertible offering in the segment. That's a price point Polit believes should attract buyers.
Lexus expects to sell 12,000 units in the United States in 2001. As of late January, Lexus already had verbal commitments for 7,500 units. Lexus expects sales to level off in subsequent years to approximately 10,000 annually.