By on June 6, 2012

With a few of our readers providing some particularly good insight into Acura’s ILX campaign based on their work in marketing, I’m submitting an ad for the TSX from 2009 for their consideration, as well as my own commentary.

The ads are similar in essence, targeting a similar audience, with a similar product with similar positioning. What are the differences? To my untrained eye, the TSX ad is more compelling. If Acura is really going for the “aspirational” aspect, then I aspire more towards the TSX ad; the beach, the open road, the big city skyline, infinity pools, the avant-garde hip-hop/electro soundtrack, the night clubs, lots of long-legged girls that also smile demurely at you.

Also more compelling is the idea of “start-up luxury”. That was the main theme they used in Canada. This is apparently a U.S. ad, and they took a slightly different approach.

“This isn’t soft luxury. This is start a business, sell it and start another one, luxury”

That’s what’s mentioned at 27 seconds in. Think about that versus the office stooge/airport hamster characters in the ILX ad. What’s more compelling to a young man looking to blaze a trail in the world?

Reader nathaniel called me out for my lack of branding knowledge, and it’s true, I’m not a professional marketer. But my past columns seem to have struck a nerve with many people, and like I said, you don’t have to be a chef to know the food is bad. Nathaniel, APaGttH, any other marketing pros and anyone interesting in this sort of stuff, let me know what you think about this ad versus the ILX ad. I’ve already declared my preference. Dissenting opinions always welcome.

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30 Comments on “Generation Why: For Comparison, An Acura TSX Ad From 2009...”

  • avatar

    Like the ILX commercial, this one is fairly well done, and mixes upscale with a little bit of hip hop. But as per my comments in the ILX thread, I think the current ILX commercial actually drops more subtle market targeting clues than is apparent on first viewing. If anything, the TSX commercial seems more aspiration (in the ILX ad, you’re just staring to make the big time. In the TSX ad, apparently you’re a private equity guy turn-keying companies…one of those narratives is a little more reachable), but I too see the same thinking behind both commercials. It’s just that I think that the ILX campaign spells out who the intended buyer is a little more clearly, whereas the TSX commerical visuals are a little bit more generic ‘urban party-highlife’.

    And even though I like the visuals in this ad, the tagline turns me off. Too alpha-male bravado for the message, would make for better copy if it was a bit more tongue in cheek. However, both campaigns, I think it’s safe to say that whatever you think that the message is, it is definitely not targeting what a BMW or Mercedes buyer is looking for. This might have been what Audi was in the days on the second generation A4, before they went further upscale.

    The other thing is that the ILX ads are more visually interesting and dynamic. The TSX ad works well, has a nice sensual feeling almost, but the forward moving ILX camera shots with the synched split screens is more visually ambitious from a cinematography standpoint.

  • avatar

    I think the real point being missed here is that our generation, Generation Y, sees right through all the marketing.

    Why? Because we grew up with ads on television, ads on the Internet, billboards and movie posters and Wheaties boxes and more, so much more.

    I will say that I like this advertisement more than the one for the ILX, but mostly because of the choice of music. The Acura owners I know were simply Honda fans who could afford better. The business people I know mostly drive vehicles from Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes (with a few Caddy’s mixed in).

    Ultimately, I think the most effective marketing for Gen Y is going to be blunt, honest, “This is what it is” advertising. Tell me what the Acura ILX IS, not what I supposedly “aspire” to (because it sure as hell isn’t being a 20-something d-bag who still goes to clubs, like that was ever cool).

    I like BMW’s ad’s. They aren’t about you; they’re about the car. The Ultimate Driving Machine. And as much as I don’t want a BMW…I want a BMW, and both for the same reason; the image the car portrays is that of the UDM.

    • 0 avatar

      Every generation believes they are more savvy than the previous generation and can’t be marketed to. The billions of dollars in sales of crap nobody needs proves them wrong.

  • avatar

    The TSX ad is unusual, which makes it more compelling. Of course, being shown on TV means most people will think it is boring–there’s no clear story, no clear person for the viewer to identify with, just abstract ideas about success, and a dreamy vibe. The person to identify with is not shown clearly and consistently, he is an idea (it’s definitely a man). I think the TSX ad works, but it will only work for a small number of people–the target audience. Everyone else is turned off.

    The ILX ad reeks of ad agency marketing, it almost makes the TSX ad look like art. Almost. The ILX ad (both versions are basically the same idea) is a lot more confining too: you’re either in an office/restaurant, or airport/hotel. Twenty-somethings don’t want to be there. We want to be outside, with the hot chicks at the club, driving them to the beach, then back home on a dark backroad (less traffic). The ILX ad is too simple, the TSX ad is just subtle enough to work. And it works for older men too–they want the same thing. Freedom vs. confinement, or at least the perception, feeling of freedom vs. confinement.

    One final point: Acura is the “tech” brand, compared to the easy choice of BMW/Mercedes as the aspirational brands. The Acura symbol itself is a pair of calipers, a tool to measure with precision. Tech can be cold, unfeeling. People already interested in the TSX know about the handling, the fuel economy, the price compared to the German cars in this class. But the TSX ad hits an emotional nerve, ie this car is your friend, wingman, when you’re riding high. The ILX ad falls flat because there is no connection to the car itself–you could just as well be walking back to 328/C300/etc. If Acura wants to sell the fact that the ILX is the “responsible” choice, ie. available as a hybrid, play that up. But then you forget about the Si engine available in the other ILX, which only has a manual, so if you want the auto you have to get the detuned-version, which has lower fuel economy than the hybrid, which costs more, blablabla you’ve lost the target audience’s attention.

  • avatar

    I’m in meetings all day so I’ll be tardy to the party with a deeper write up later today:

    1) Aspects of this are better than the ILX ad

    2) They have a call to action at the end of the ad!!!

    3) They have their personas wrong – which is where this ad falls down

    4) This tells the “Acura” story and packages “Acura” much better than the ads you connected to yesterday.

    5) No pricing information is ever given, not even in fine print. Not a huge issue but supports point four above, this is more about “Acura” and packaging Acura as being on the same level as BMW and other aspirational brands.

    Not quite an apples-to-apples comparison as this is a 60 second spot, and the ads from yesterday are 30 second spots. The producers had more time to tell a story and create dynamic content. A 30 second version of this ad probably exists, would be interesting to see what 30 seconds ended up on the cutting room floor.

    Those are my initial thoughts.

  • avatar

    Thanks! They did run a 30 second spot in Canada but I can’t find it…so far…

  • avatar

    There is a reason why the 2009 and 2012 ads show a different kind of aspiration.

    In 2009, there was no Occupy movement poisoning the idea of entrepenuerial aspiration. Young folks believed it was possible to succeed, especially in the easiest country in the world to become a millionaire. It was heady days of app-making, rags-to-riches risk taking. The recession was welcomed with stories of HP and Apple starting up during difficult times.

    In 2012, the millenial dream is to score health insurance and stable employment. Somewhere to go every day and build a little bit at a time. Big companies may be evil but getting inside the Mandarin compound is worth being an airport hamster. The alternative is much less pleasant. Therefore working long days as a necessary evil (just like Dad) is emerging as a trend in this generation.

    • 0 avatar

      As a marketing professional, unless I was marketing gas masks, Occupy protesters are the furthest from my mind.

      See my post yesterday about Generation Y and Millennials. They grew up in an era of 50% divorce rates, stained dresses, impeachment hearings, we went to war why, what weapons of mass destruction, a large minority seeing mom or dad hauled off to jail in a DV dispute (thanks in large part to flawed mandatory arrest laws), where heroes go to prison, and even the apparently sainted (aka Martha Stewart) aren’t all that sainted after all. They’ve grown up where the news is delivered as entertainment (Daily Report) and where little is off limits.

      They were natural born cynics the day they were born. You are also completely wrong about their entrepreneurial spirit. Given that “regular” employment is hard to find, and many don’t want a traditional 8 to 5, well really 8 to 8 with an odd Saturday thrown in because you’re expected to work 60 hours a week even though it is a 40 hour a week job. Generation Y is one of the biggest generators of new small businesses and self employment.

      If anything the message of start a business, sell it and start another one would be even stronger in 2012 then in 2009. In 2009 when this ad was running, the entire globe missed out on cities being in flames al a Rome 419 AD by 24 to 36 hours just a few months earlier. You couldn’t get a loan for anything even if you knew Jesus, personally, and had enough assets to prove you didn’t need the loan.

      Generation Y and Millennials do not want to be in “the Mandarin Compound,” they don’t get it, they don’t like it, and want to forge a new path. In the corporate space they don’t even want IT to issue them a computer, they’ve got an iPad or Macbook Air and would rather use that, just connect it to the company network please. They don’t want offices or cubicles, because everyone is special and every voice should be heard. They don’t like hierarchy, organizations should be flat. If the janitor has an idea that could save the company money then why should the janitor not be heard.

      • 0 avatar

        While I agree that this is 2010-2011’s defintion of millenial, I think there is a subtle tone shift coming. Though they did grow up in the above, and you are spot on, pop culture indicators are beginning to reflect the fatigue of cynicism. Some traditional values (lessons?) are returning in bellweather channels. Food, for example, is veering on reactionary. Apparel has been there for 4-5 years now.

        Self-expression is still a huge driver of decisions but most major firms are willing to make sacrifices to lure fresh grads as they must inevitably do. At my firm millenials are beating down the door and show plenty of willingness to work and relocate. That dedication isn’t flagging; I don’t see them as lazy as some people do (not that you do, BTW).

        Somebody at Acura’s campaign firm is betting that success is still alluring to some millenials. Further, since success reliably follows smart work, that will mean focusing on things like careers.

        I bet that attitude will become even more common. Even the Boomers, who were once the whiniest generation, realized that stability was pretty damn attractive. It will be interesting to see how the Millenials put their spin on it as they hit 30. I’m keen to see where they decide to invest their time/money in their highly individual pursuit of happiness.

  • avatar

    They should have expanded on the 2009 entrepreneurial theme with something like this:

    “Mark Zuckerberg drives a TSX – its not soft luxury, actually its not really luxury at all but a European Honda Accord but then again Facebook shares aren’t worth $38 either.”

  • avatar

    Call me crazy but I think this TSX ad is AWFUL. Like harshciygar points out, the whole cool-club guy image is super douchey. Plus, “start a business, sell it and start a new one,” yeah riiight, it’s a freakin’ TSX; more like “paid off your grad school loans and got your first promotion.”

    I guess that’s why I prefer the ILX ad. Say what you will about the product, but at least it’s positioned honestly. Personally, I’m much more interested in projecting a professional image than being an infinity-pool, beaches at dusk, club hopper. The TSX ad might work if you’re 21, but not if you’re 29 (my age).

    On another note, I actually think Acura’s strategy here is pretty good (marketing to young professionals). BMW and Infiniti are about the cars while Audi/Mercedes/Lexus are targeted to moneyed older folks; this leaves a good niche for Acura to exploit.

    Personally, I think the most interesting new car ads are coming from Subaru. They’re taking a similar angle targeting young folks just entering the grown-up, professional phase. Subaru’s ads seem a little more real and honest to me. The dudes and lifestyles in the ILX ads are just a little too polished, while the TSX “aspirational” identity is pure d-bag wetdream, and little that I aspire to.

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve nailed the biggest problem with this ad. This goes to persona and not nailing who their persona is in the ad. As I noted above, this is why the ad falls down.

    • 0 avatar

      Subaru ads are next…

      • 0 avatar

        This is a discussion we should definitely be having about GM. I firmly believe that they finally have solid product, but no clear idea of what it means, how to sell it, or where to go next. The US market has become disillusioned with Japanese brands, Honda and Toyota. Now more than ever GM could get it’s act together and become the car to have again. They need to leave the jingoist angle behind them and become the brand to buy into because it is cool, and not just because it is American. Having the squares at Fox News rag on you every week could actually be turned into an advantage.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh fudge, don’t quote me. I actually think Subaru is THE image brand, even more so than BMW. You tell yourself you need it for trips up to Tahoe, but really you just want to project your sporty snowboard/camping/dog owning image. They’ve been effectively pushing this image for a while now, only recently flaunting the freshly grown-up “aspiration” angle.

        Just talking about the marketing and *some* owners; I’m sure there’s lots of great reasons to love a Subaru. I know I’d love an STI :).

  • avatar

    I think the overall message is good, but it gets a little bogged down trying to explain it. They have a bit of lifestyle message and a bit of feature message. What does the concept, “startup luxury” even mean? It takes a little too much thought to piece it together. The feature they are touting is something all modern cars can do, luxury brand on the hood or no.

    In my opinion the ILX advert is a little bit more successful because it is brighter and more joyful. Choosing to buy an Acura isn’t a serious decision, it is more emotional. You will choose to buy one because it feels good, not because it is a serious statement of who you are and where you are going.

    Lets compare it to a brand who knows who they are and what they do.
    This message is so simple, and that makes it even more compelling. You don’t buy a BMW because it has better features, or more technology. You buy it because of how it drives.

    Acura needs a better single minded message. They claim to be advanced, yet all of their technology was sold on Hondas when I was a teenager (SH, VTEC, etc…). If you want to be the innovative company you have to commit and prove it. Looking at their product you can see that they haven’t. I’d say drop the innovation/technology angle and look for something else they can own.

  • avatar

    > This message is so simple, and that makes it even more compelling. You don’t buy a BMW because it has better features, or more technology. You buy it because of how it drives.

    BMW’s marketing strategy is a little simpler than Acura’s. As one standup comic puts it, BMW knows who you are before you go on their website. They know you think you are unique, an achiever, a trailblazer. Somebody getting ahead in life. Or in the standup’s words, they’re making a car that appeals to douchebags. (His words, not mine!)

    Bluntness aside, that’s an easier concept to nail down than the ‘smart luxury’ ethos that Acura is trying to go for. They really need Saab’s “architects like Saab’s” narrative… it’s more nuanced and sophisticated than the alpha-dog market grab, but putting the words ‘architect and Saab’ explain so much more about the product than ad copy does.

    • 0 avatar

      BMW’s message is more than simple. It is a sacred cow carved from the hardest granite on the planet. The tag line, “the Ultimate Driving Machine” was coined the day BMW opened its doors for business. It has never changed. It isn’t just clear to customers, it is clear to employees. Does this feature/function/design represent “the ultimate driving machine?”

      That’s branding power internally and externally that takes decades to cultivate. Only the most powerful brands on the planet have it.

      A great example of a car company that has no such grounding tag line either internal or external is General Motors – and look at the result.

      Never underestimate the power of branding, positioning and messaging.

      • 0 avatar

        You nailed it.

        You have to know what it is you are building BEFORE you build it. The ILX might be a great car, but it’s only reason to exist is to sell at the 25k+ price point. It’s not more innovative, more advanced, or has the best performance. Nor is it’s styling any of those things. These things aren’t required for a car to be good, unless your brand attributes state that it has these qualities, as Acura’s do. That is why this effort feels hollow.

      • 0 avatar


        And that is a problem of having no direction at a corporate level. What does the Acura brand stand for?

        Look at how many times they’ve changed the tag line. Look at the perception when they were a new company and the advertising was about how Acura stood for precision, perfection, expecting more and getting a premium, but at a sub-premium price. It was crystal clear.

        What is Acura today – as a company their position in the marketplace is not grounded, and that is a big reason why their advertising feels somewhat disconnected.

      • 0 avatar

        > it’s only reason to exist is to sell at the 25k+ price point

        Not to be contrary, but isn’t one of the tenants of marketing to “mind the gaps”? If you leave a product point open, the competitors will aim for it.

      • 0 avatar

        stuntmonkey: It isn’t wrong to want to fill this gap, in fact I think it is the right thing to do for Acura. They should have never left it open in the first place.

        The problem is that the product has nothing to sell on except the price. That isn’t good for a brand who is trying to be “premium”.

        Does the Acura badge carry enough weight to make this car worth it over a better equipped, better performing, yet similarly priced Civic SI/GTI/Focus ST? Maybe. We will have to wait and see if buyers are hungry for this sort of thing.

  • avatar

    I’m 31 and advertising works on me. If an ad shows me something I like I will check it out. The ILX ad was visually interesting enough to hold my attention to the end, and afterward I went to the website for more details. In that respect the ad worked. A quick look at the engine/transmission offerings and I knew I was not interested. That is where the car and the brand failed to live up to the advertising.

    To me the TSX ad was a joke. When I first heard the line “This isn’t soft luxury. This is start a business, sell it and start another one, luxury” I laughed. Saying it doesn’t make it true. In my mind Acura is “Just got a job with a salary and Im trading in the car my parents gave me, luxury” I think the ILX add is in line with that. Its an attainable goal for the brand and for the real buying demographic.

    The TSX ad with a bunch of too rich, too good looking people just makes me think those people are too rich and too good looking to be caught dead in an Acura. It may be what the brand aspires to be, but the cars change the brand image, the brand image doesn’t change the cars. I feel the same way about current Lincoln advertsing.

  • avatar

    I am 39 years old, test-drove the previous generation TSX and can buy this car (several times) with cash, but this ad pisses me off. It tries to tell me what I should like, and thus comes across as at once patronizing and trying too hard to be cool. Not everyone wants to start worthless companies. The ad is saying, I know what you like, and I agree with you that your goals are totally awesome dude. Acura should leave the clingy creepy older salesman for the dealerships, not channel him into their ads.

  • avatar

    This ad lost it for me with the line “This isn’t soft luxury. This is start a business, sell it and start another one, luxury”

    I’m not the target demographic, but I do know serial entrepreneurs have attention deficit disorder or are just phony. The better breed of entrepreneur has a great idea and wants to change world. Note the difference.

    For that reason, I prefer the ILX ad. While the aspirational world it portrays is fantasy, it’s not phony. The difference is subtle, but present.

    But I found a better ad for the TSX, one that emphasizes fun on rolling hills accompanied by jazzy music:

    Hints of aspiration include the driver wearing a dress shirt, the coffee from what appears to be Starbucks, and business papers in the air. But the emphasis is fun, not just for the young, but for the young at heart.

    And for nostalgia, here’s another Acura ad that speaks to me — the Integra and hot wheels:

    Vintage Acura.

  • avatar

    Except this ad is rather less realistic than the ILX ad-the average ILX buyer is unlikely to be someone actually starting and selling multiple businesses. And as much as I’d like to fantasize about being some crazy multiple business builder and seller it’s not who I am right now nor is it 99% of people buying Acuras. That kinda person would be dumping cars after brief leases for the next even hotter car, not buying a the low profile TSX or entry level ILX.

    The most successful TSX driver is Zuckerberg and he started a business then proceeded to not sell it even when offered a billion dollars and instead stuck with it until it was worth many times that (even accounting for the stock price tanking it’s still worth about 70 times that).

    The kinda person who starts multiple businesses and sells them is also the kinda person who swaps cars over and over and over, the kind that’s pretty damned unlikely to be caught driving an ILX. That just isn’t the kinda person who’d actually buy an ILX or for that matter a TSX. Those people would be out there leasing whatever the new hotness is then dumping it like their companies. So while the TSX ad here might be a nicer fantasy the ILX ad actually aligns a *lot* closer to most of the target demographic’s actual life. They might both be ad company fantasies but one is pretty damned close to reality while the other one is like a beer ad.

    I like the ILX ad a lot better, and for that matter I like the idea of building an awesome company through the years a lot better than being some ADD entrepreneur who keeps making half-baked companies. All the really legendary businessmen always stuck around to build empires anyway so why would you want to be the weird ADD business guy?

    • 0 avatar

      I wasn’t aware Zuckerberg was a TSX driver. Not to impune the TSX which is think is a fine entry-level luxury car, but if that’s true it only further shows me what a tool Zuckerberg is… it says to me ‘I don’t drive myself much so I don’t care what I drive when I do’. You would think someone with so much money would learn to have more refined taste in automobiles, you could literally have one built for you if you didn’t care for available models.

      • 0 avatar

        Read “The Millionaire Next Door.” Most millionaires in America started their own businesses, I would guess its the same for billionaires. Know what Warren Buffet drives? A beat up old Volvo station wagon. There’s a story in the book that illustrates how the truly wealthy think about consumption. A wealthy man receives a Bentley as a gift from his friends. He doesn’t like it. Why? When he goes hunting he can’t put game in the backseat, which is too small, and will get damaged/stained. The fact that it is an expensive car only means it is a waste. For the truly wealthy, a car, no matter how expensive, is such an insignificant expenditure that there is no reason to spend more time thinking about it than is necessary, ie. for transportation. For the rest of us, it’s fake it ’til you make it. Thus, every luxury brand ever.

  • avatar

    mistercopacetic makes a point that I think most people here (i.e., those who even bother reading a car website) tend to overlook. Many wealthy people just aren’t into cars. I live in Montecito CA (Google it) and while there is a large percentage of high end cars here (mainly S Class type cars purchased as the ‘default’ car choice of many wealthy people) and some car enthusiasts with supercars (purchased as either collector value or ‘hobby’ value), there is an equal amount of extremely wealthy people who drive ‘basic’ transportation cars. A car just isn’t an important part of their life. They travel often but never make ‘road trips\'(they travel by leased or privately owned jets.) And they certainly don’t need a car to emphasize their wealth; when you really got it, you don’t need to flaunt it.

    Car enthusiasts (as in the TTAC demographic) are rarely swayed by car ads. We pretty much know what we want based on the actual specs of the car. Car ads are directed to buyers who don’t know a lot about cars. They don’t approach car ownership like we do. And they don’t really care about cars in the long run.

    The Acura ad (and all car ads) are reaching for a demographic that just needs to buy a car, period. If the ad ‘connects’ to that person’s lifestyle/world view then they can connect to the ad and presumably connect to the car itself and will buy one. The actual car itself doesn’t really mean a lot to them aside from the perception of it fitting into their own lifestyle.

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