Lexus Pins Sales Hopes on Pricey Model's Movie Role

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Okay, that headline’s just a tad disingenuous — Lexus knows exactly how to pick up new customers, and that’s by offering crossovers, crossovers, crossovers. Longer crossovers. Smaller crossovers. More seats and fewer seats.

Still, as much as an ever-expanding roster of utility vehicles can sway buyers to a brand, visibility counts for something. And a starring role in a potential blockbuster film isn’t something any automaker would pass up. Such is the case with Black Panther, a superhero movie for superhero-loving nerds, which Lexus feels is the perfect vehicle for pumping up a little brand recognition.

Lexus, you see, wants to be back on top.

Front and center in the upcoming flick is a Lexus LC 500, a dramatically styled 2+2 sports coupe that retails for over 90 grand. Lexus hopes the added exposure helps return it to the top of the U.S. luxury sales charts.

As someone who never ventures anywhere near superhero movies (I prefer Team America to Captain America), the internets tell me the Marvel Comics-derived Black Panther features a mega-wealthy African king as its main character — making it the first “major” superhero movie with a black actor in the lead role. Sorry, Wesley Snipes. The casting is key for Lexus, as it can’t regain its sales leader status without new blood.

“We are going after a younger customer, and just from a demographic standpoint, the younger you go, the more culturally diverse the population gets,” Cooper Ericksen, Lexus’s vice president of marketing, told Bloomberg at last week at the Detroit auto show. “The task to hit our sales plan really comes from bringing a lot of new customers into the brand.”

As predominately white Baby Boomers age and retire, the buying power shifts towards a younger demographic containing more blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. New vehicle spending is up among the latter group, down among whites. For automakers, it’s a case of know your market or risk being forgotten.

With a customer base that’s already one-third non-white, Lexus isn’t exactly an unknown brand to any demographic. However, as Ericksen pointed out, its main concern is not race, but age. Through Walton Isaacson, Lexus’ black and Hispanic-targeting marketing agency, the brand sought out a movie tie-in guaranteed to lure in buyers in their 20s and 30s.

There’s always the chance a movie can bomb at the box office, but Marvel Studios productions so far seem like a license to print money.

Black Panther, played by actor Chadwick Boseman, will also make an appearance in a Lexus ad set to air during the Super Bowl — this one featuring the redesigned-for-2018 LS sedan. By purchasing the priciest time slot on TV, Lexus hopes to divert minds away from the ES 350s parked outside legion branches across America. It’s a lot of money, but Nissan’s Star Wars investment (for example) wasn’t exactly a bust. Remember what Twister did for the Dodge Ram?

The last time Lexus held the number one spot among premium brands in the U.S. was 2010. Since then, a surging BMW and Mercedes-Benz have sent it tumbling to third place, and the brand’s sales peak came and went in 2015. Volume for 2017 fell 12.3 percent below that high water mark.

[Image: Lexus]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Great car and marketing plan but... the plan is to bring in new customers, and young ones at that, with a $90,000 MSRP? Maybe the target demographic will want to get a LC 500, but the price will make that happen about... almost never.

  • Davekaybsc Davekaybsc on Jan 22, 2018

    Lexus has been INCREDIBLY slow with CUVs in general. Audi is on its second gen Q7, Volvo on its second gen XC90, and Lexus has no answer. Lexus' answer to the X3, now in its THIRD generation, is a warmed over RAV4 that's only a few years old. It's so strange. They invented the luxury CUV category 20 years ago, and then basically decided they were done with that one model. The ML320 beat them by a year, but it was BOF. Only Cadillac has been lazier with CUVs.

    • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jan 23, 2018

      For what it's worth, I feel like they've outsold most of the competition with that one entry at a healthy profit margin. If it ain't broke...........

  • ToolGuy I wouldn't buy any old Chinese brand of vehicle, but the right EV at the right price, maybe possibly yes. If you told me this would alarm Ford and torque off FreedMike, all the better. 😉P.S. I would *definitely* consider an EV made in Taiwan. Take that, paramount leader!P.P.S. China batteries/components to convert one of my ICE vehicles to EV? Yes.
  • Wolfwagen I expect Renault to be less popular than Fiat
  • ToolGuy Helium-3, baby!
  • Roman Our 1999 Pontiac Sunfire Gt is still running without any issues. 25 years and counting.
  • 28-Cars-Later I thought today's young people weren't even getting licenses to drive, so which is it?