While BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have long built their reputations on having high performance vehicles, Lexus was able to achieve its own success by owning more traditional luxury equities. Since its launch in 1989, it quickly emerged as a leading luxury label, with a reputation for craftsmanship and comfort that was unmatched.
Recently, however, a new generation of younger luxury buyers had emerged who no longer sought a quiet, sedate luxury sedan. Instead, they demanded something more exciting, more dynamic and most importantly – something with more performance credentials. While Lexus had done exceptionally well with its core base of loyal buyers, they stood to lose out on this new audience because of a simple perception deficit.
To connect with this emerging audience, Lexus launched its F performance label in 2008. F was to be a premier tier for many existing models, powered by superior technology and engineered to deliver more power, more fun, and of course, more performance.
The purpose of the F line was not simply to close the performance gap that had long existed between Lexus and its German competitors, but to slam it shut. While the core of Lexus sales would still be driven by its traditional, more subdued models, the brand had planted a stake in the ground with F. The F line would deliver the brand a much-needed injection of excitement, and catapult it into the high-profile performance conversation it had long been absent from.
By 2014, with over five years of product development and marketing support, the F badge adorned a full line of performance vehicles but still had done little to attract younger consumers. The age of the average Lexus buyer remained the highest in the category, while the brand’s perception in performance still lagged behind its competitors. Lexus buyers were aging out of market and the F halo had barely cast a shadow.
JOB TO BE DONE The assignment was simple: cement F as a desirable and meaningful performance mark from Lexus amongst a new generation of consumers. However, the ask was more complex than it appeared. If Lexus failed to entice today’s generation of performance-minded luxury consumers, its buyer base would eventually collapse. The F line was Lexus’ opportunity to chance its core perceptions, which it vitally needed to.
INSIGHT Lexus’ greatest challenge in cementing its performance credibility was its own acclaimed reputation in luxury.
Facing this challenge, we set out to better understand why Lexus wasn’t getting recognition for the F line’s performance. First, we sought to better understand the product. A heart-pounding track day driving the vehicles, and conversations with product experts, confirmed that the F vehicles were, in fact, as exhilarating as they promised.
Secondly, we undertook a series of focus groups with luxury and performance enthusiasts. I had assumed when entering research that the issue facing F would surely be awareness. After all, many F vehicles were only in their first generation. However, I found awareness of F was unexpectedly high and F vehicles were surprisingly well regarded amongst enthusiasts.
Why then did the brand continue to have the lowest performance perceptions? In discussion, I noticed an unexpected trend when respondents were ask two questions: First, when asked, “Are F vehicles legitimate performance vehicles?” The answer was unanimously, “yes.” But when asked, “Is Lexus a legitimate performance brand?” the answer was a resounding “no”.
The issue with the F line, I concluded, was simply that F was built by Lexus. Lexus was the archetype of quiet, sedate and traditional. It was a perception the brand had cemented in the cultural consciousness for over two decades. And a perception that was in perfect contrast with performance.
F and Lexus were at odds. F vehicles were ferocious; Lexus, prim and proper. The brand couldn’t abandon one set of values for the other. I had to find a way to make two seemingly disparate ideas coexist.
For six years, Lexus had tried using F as a halo for the brand. That hadn’t worked. F had done little to change Lexus perceptions from the top down. The new approach, instead, would be to do so from the bottom up. Rather than making F the face of a new and changed Lexus, what if we exposed it as something that had always existed instead? F would be revealed as the darker side of Lexus, a more provocative side, something innate that only now was coming to the surface.
This duality, of the proper and provocative, was something consumers could relate to and accept. They hadn’t wanted to accept that nerdy Lexus had become the football star. It was too improbable. They were, however, willing to believe it was the wholesome cheerleader who had a tattoo no one knew about. Because, after all, everyone has a dark side. We all have an alter ego that yearns to indulge in vices and behave badly. It’s what makes us dimensional, intriguing, and seductive.
Launched in April ’14, the campaign’s effectiveness is already being felt. In its first month visitors to the future F vehicles page on Lexus.com leapt 75%. Today, visits are 200% above their prelaunch numbers. Additionally, the campaign has shifted perceptions amongst younger buyers. Lexus perceptions as a “cool” and “desirable” brand were at all time highs amongst audiences under 45. The campaign also lifted its most vital metric – performance– which rose 5% over the previous year, and garnered the brand’s highest performance rating, ever
OBJECTIVES: Increase awareness of F and F SPORT Build/establish credibility in Lexus performance and the F line Make F stand for something powerful
ISSUE: The reputation of Lexus in luxury poses its greatest challenge to credibility in performance. Lexus has built a reputation for quality, craftsmanship and raising the bar in the luxury category. As it expands into the performance space, its own image of luxury, elegance and sophistication may be its greatest hurtle in establishing credibility.
INSIGHT: F is the unexpectedly exhilarating side of Lexus. F is everything Lexus is, and everything it isn’t. Powered by the same exceptional attention to detail that made Lexus the benchmark of luxury, F provides an unexpected shot of exhilaration, aggression and a competitive spirit. With superior handling and immediate responsiveness, F delivers the exhilaration that many least expect from Lexus.
CHALLENGE: Establish F as the Lexus alter ego many never saw coming.