Q&A: Lexus' Brian Bolain Talks Cars, Campaigns

LEXUSLexus has launched a major campaign for its new 2013 LS, the company's flagship vehicles. The effort includes big programs with GQ and the USA Network show about a law firm, "Suits,” in which, among other things, the company gets product integration. There are also a lot of social media elements tied to the partnerships with GQ.  

Behind this effort is Brian Bolain, Lexus national marketing communications manager. Just back from SEMA, where the brand had a major presence, and headed to New York, Bolain talked to Marketing Daily about the Toyota luxury division, its LS sedan, and the new campaign that supports it. 

Q: So how big was SEMA this year?

A: What felt really good about the show was that it was packed again, it was just like the old days. It was above pre-recession levels for the first time. They were projecting 130,000 attendees this year, and it felt every bit of that. It felt alive. 

Q: What about Lexus' presence there?

A: This is our fifth consecutive year, and we have been showing there ever since we launched the IS-F [F is Lexus' performance sub-brand -- think BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG, or Cadillac V-Series]. This year, we took our space and divided it diagonally, so one half was all white and one black, to highlight the fact that we are about design and performance. On the design side, we had the LS cc concept we showed in Paris a month ago, and on the performance side, a Nürburgring version [based on the famed German course] of the LFA. In the middle, we had a modified version of the new LS -- sort of both design and performance in one vehicle. 

Q: Which is a lot like this new LS campaign with the focus on performance and design as well as lifestyle.

A: We are definitely speaking more loudly than before with the LS, and there's a bit of irony in that since LS is a very quiet car. But we are trying to celebrate the lifestyle people lead in this premium category. It's basically the fact that you can speak quietly, and still make an impression. 

Q: Is this a change for Lexus, which used to be more focused on vehicle attributes and impregnable build quality?

A: There have been big changes this year. For example, years ago we never used people; there was no evidence of humanity in our ads unless it was to prove a technical point. Starting with the Lexus CT work we did last June, we really upped the ante in terms of people in the spots. One, it's relatable -- people want to live like that -- and I think it freshens us to have people in the spots. 

Q: How about the prevalence of social media activation with this campaign?

A: In general, in everything we are doing now there are social media involved; we are lucky enough to have 1.7 million followers on Facebook and over 300,000 in Twitter, so everything we do now has a social component. Even with SEMA, there was a social media program around what we did there. With our media buys now, for any place that's appropriate, we have a social component. 

Q: If you had to choose key elements of the LS campaign... 

A: There are four major elements. We tried to hit on a lot of lifestyle, so we hit on things that were style-oriented, entertainment-oriented, culinary-oriented, travel and several linchpins in this. For example, the program with GQ makes us the first advertiser integrated into their "Man of the Year" events, which have digital, as well as print and physical components. Then, with "Suits," we are upping the ante there because the LS is going to be the official vehicle of the law firm in the show. 

Q: These campaigns are also much more digital and "multi-screen" in nature. 

A: We are finding a lot of value in that. For example, with ABC's "Revenge" -- and we are in our second season working with them -- we are finding a lot of value in recognizing the second-screen approach: people are watching television but they are also sitting with their iPads or smartphones, and they are willing to take an extra step if you are willing to give them a little more information. We are finding that to be of great value, it increases consumer attention.

Q: Finally, what's the role of LS in Lexus' car lineup?

A: It's the flagship, and in terms of continuity, the car has been around for 23 years. We launched the LS and ES together, but LS has always been the car that defined the brand, and it's the point of aspiration for Lexus. Any luxury brand without a halo car really wouldn't be a luxury brand.

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