In the dynamic 30-second spot by Team One Advertising, two sleek cars, identical except for color, tear around lower Manhattan at cinematic speeds. With an adrenaline buzz courtesy of professional drivers, the viewer soon realizes that it's a desperate race to get out of New York. A sign on the West Side Highway announces the Holland Tunnel. On the other side of the Hudson River, the cars screech to a halt at their destination: New Jersey.
Everything in the shot is symmetrical: two streetlamps, two buildings, two cars, two yellow lines on the street that draw the viewer to the Amex building--and the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. The voiceover concludes: "The new 303-horsepower LexusGS350. You can't lose."
It's an artful commercial, but the number of coincidences seems improbable--from the obsessive pairing of symmetrical objects to the shot of empty skyline. Finally, the assertion, "you can't lose." The viewer is affronted by an absurd denial of facts. The catchphrase flies in the face of reality: Clearly, we can lose, and on a terrifying scale. So what does the ad mean?
Meg Seiler, a spokesperson for Team One Advertising, says the ad "wasn't designed to have anything to do with 9/11," adding that she isn't sure anybody was aware of using Ground Zero as a backdrop. "It's just a beautiful shot of Manhattan for pure aesthetic reasons," she says. Since the ad is airing nationally, most viewers wouldn't notice the setting, Seiler believes, emphasizing that "there was no intentional New York focus, other than the city's challenging driving conditions."
Nor was the ad deliberately aired on 9/11, says Seiler. The ad began running nationally on Aug. 21 to coincide with Lexus' sponsorship of the U.S. Open. As for the 9/11 airing, "Monday Night Football" is "a good target audience." Seiler points out the spot aired all week on "The Tonight Show," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "Late Show With David Letterman."
But on 9/11, the commercial's context was guaranteed to draw attention to the date, in a somewhat unfortunate proof that "engagement" exists. It also ran Monday Night on "The Colbert Report." Stephen Colbert addressed 9/11--and he even drew attention to TV ads during the program, zinging ABC in tongue-in-cheek fashion for not running spots during "The Path to 9/11." Colbert noted: "After the tragedy, the president told America, 'Go about your business.' ABC, your business is commercials. TV without ads is just what the terrorists want!"