Julie Michael takes the helm at Lexus' longtime ad agency at a critical time for the brand. It's back in the hunt this year for the luxury crown that it owned for a decade, while it shuffles its product and marketing mix to better appeal to younger customers.
Michael, who joined Saatchi & Saatchi's Team One in 1998 and became president last month, says the challenge of pitching edgier products such as the RC coupe and NX compact crossover to a new generation of buyers is leading Lexus and its longtime agency down some interesting paths. She spoke with Special Correspondent Julie Halpert.
Q: What marketing inroads do you hope to make with Lexus?
A: There are two areas that I'm really excited about. One is the idea of being more personal in our communications, and the other is the idea of being more immersive. When we talk about personal communication, we really talk about technology giving us the ability to speak in a more personal, one-to-one way with individuals vs. mass audiences. Lexus is investing in many programs, whether it's relationship marketing programs, digital programs or social programs that allow us to be more personal in the communication we have with people.
Give an example of the personal communications.
We were just recognized for our work with Facebook on the launch of the NX. The program is called "Facebook 1,000 to 1," and it's the most personalized video campaign to date. We basically created -- based on a series of profiles that we can read into on Facebook -- 1,000 unique ads that were served to customers based on their own personal profiles and preferences.
We pushed the limits of their technology. We went in with expectations that it would be more interesting than effective, and in the end, it was actually increasingly effective as much as it was interesting. Our return was significant. The campaign reached over 11 million unique Facebook users and delivered almost 11 million video views.
What about the immersive side?
Lexus just launched a virtual-reality cycling experience called Elevate. Lexus supports U.S. cycling as one of their many programs and they partnered with pro cyclist Christian Vande Velde and he did a [360-degree] immersive cycling experience that you can see through virtual-reality [technology] on your phone.
You get to be the eyes and ears of this pro cycler. As you move your phone, you're also moving the scenery around you. On a more emotional level, it's about deep sensory experiences for people, but on a more technical level, cycling represents performance, innovation, technology, pushing human limits, which is what Lexus supports.
What is Team One doing to engage younger buyers?
When Lexus launched the RC, a coupe, we started creating social content early on in the campaign and we found a really amazing remote-control driver who could do tricks with a remote-control car that were kind of mind-blowing. And as we started to post these videos on social channels, they garnered over a million views within the first week. And so we thought: Clearly consumers are enjoying this content so what are other ways we could leverage this content and get people excited about the new RC?
And because Lexus saw the opportunity, they said we have a Super Bowl opportunity coming up within the next few weeks, and they moved very quickly to get on the Super Bowl. Content that was intended to be online only got edited into a 30-second spot and aired on the Super Bowl. So it's a really interesting reverse in the model. A lot of other brands are doing TV first, content second. Lexus really focuses on the content and ideas first, and then it lives in whatever channels it's best suited for.
Did the Super Bowl ad bring tangible results?
The traffic to lexus.com and to that section of the site went up significantly after the Super Bowl ad aired.
How will Lexus differentiate itself from other luxury carmakers?
We believe that being personal and immersive are two ways that Lexus continues to push us and partner with us to differentiate. They also are a very young and dynamic brand that is flexible and nimble and ambitious, and that is a point of differentiation between them and their German competitors.