The Lexus Heartbeat Car is not risky marketing

Alex HayesIn this opinion piece Mumbrella’s Alex Hayes argues Lexus’ new Heartbeat Car stunt will not raise the pulses of ordinary punters.

I have to admit the new ‘world first’ Lexus ‘Heatbeat Car’ leaves me cold.

It comes across as technology for technology’s sake – they could have achieved the same results with CGI.

One person I chatted to about this paint suggested it would have cost more than the car itself ($140,000) just to apply.

It is very clever technology from M&C Saatchi’s innovation lab, which has taken many people much cleverer than me many months to develop, and I respect that.

But looking at the insight behind it – driving a fast car is exciting – you have to wonder what came first, the brief or the idea.

I’m genuinely not sure how much it’s going to change people’s perceptions of Lexus as being innovative. They’re a Japanese luxury car firm, technology is one thing the average punter would expect them to have nailed.

Admittedly this campaign is bolder than just creating another car ad – and at least they haven’t tried to come up with a ‘You bought a Jeep’ style tagline.

But it feels cold and remote – it doesn’t speak to me. It comes across as nothing more than a nice video which you watch for two minutes and then forget about.

And that’s not helped by the fact I know I’m never going to see this in the wild. I’m probably not even going to be able to see it if I went to a dealer. It will have absolutely no impact on my life.

Even the monotone voiceover on the video – which handily doubles as a case study video – describes it as a “project”.

And that leaves me feeling a little cheated.

It comes from the same innovation lab – Tricky Jigsaw – that pioneered the Clever Buoy. For me this isn’t in the same league.

Clever Buoy

Clever Buoy

Cynics have accused Clever Buoy of being scam. It’s not. It’s a brilliant idea that will improve the lives of millions if and when it becomes commercially viable.

Just this week we saw Mick Fanning’s brush with a shark capture world headlines – it taps into a primal fear most people have, especially in Australia.

And it deserved to win innovation awards because it is an innovative use of technology, and marketing awards for the amount of publicity it garnered for Optus.

This Lexus campaign will probably do well in PR and content categories, but I would argue it won’t do so well in the innovation categories. It’s very clever engineering, but fundamentally pointless outside of the campaign remit.

Even if Lexus did make a $200,000 paint job plus wiring up available to customers who’d really want it?

In that respect it’s like the Dolmio Pepper Hacker which caused quite a bit of commentary earlier this year.dolmio pepper hacker

Clemenger BBDO Sydney created a clever bit of technology and generated a lot of earned media in the process, kick starting a global debate about family mealtimes as far afield as Norway.

But they also admitted it wasn’t a commercially viable product. That didn’t make it scam. It did its job in generating more attention for the brand than another TVC featuring some Italian puppets would have – that’s clever modern marketing.

I question whether outside of our marketing bubble this Lexus campaign is nearly as shareable as the Pepper Hacker for consumers. I’m not convinced it will trigger the kind of emotion that is required to drive the ordinary non-car enthusiasts to share it.

As one commenter on our story about this from earlier this week said: “Nice innovation – but it’s symbolic not functional and therefore probably quite forgettable.”

In an interview with AdNews Lexus’ CEO described the campaign as a “risk”. I don’t think it is. It’s probably cost more than making and running a TVC, but it’s not as if they’ve created a real product which could go wrong for consumers and create a backlash.

Clever Buoy, that’s risky.

  • Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella

Updated 3pm: 

Sean Hanley

Sean Hanley

Earlier today I put a few questions about the campaign to Lexus and M&C Saatchi. Here are the questions in bold with responses underneath from Lexus Australia CEO Sean Hanley.

1.     How much of its own money did M&C spend on making it happen?

None. The heart beat car was developed by Lexus Australia to showcase the brand’s design, innovation and performance credentials while demonstrating how exhilarating the RC F coupe is to drive.

2.     Is it correct the car was meant to launch at an event but Lexus pulled out?

No – this is incorrect. Whilst we looked at a number of launch opportunities, the RC F heart beat car has always been a standalone project that incorporates innovative technology and continues Lexus’ progressive brand direction.

3.     Will the car be available for use by members of the public?

No – The RC F Heartbeat is a concept that was developed purely as a demonstration of innovative technology to encapsulate the emotion between man and machine. Lexus will align the RC F Heart beat car to existing sponsorship and event properties where both Lexus customers and members of the public may have visual access. Lexus will also examine other opportunities that will allow the brand to demonstrate this intriguing technology to the public. The car is not able to be driven on public roads.

4.     Will it be put on display in showrooms?

We have a plan to make the car available to Lexus dealers who will be able to static display and demonstrate the technology in showrooms. Lexus are also reviewing broader static demonstration opportunities for the heart beat RC F coupe.

5.     What is the content strategy for the campaign? Where will it be distributed? Who is the target market?

This project was created with performance car fans in mind. And, in Australia, we always had the intention to educate the public about Lexus’ passion for performance and innovation.

It is our aim via this cutting edge project to reach a broader audience and to emphasise our high performance vehicle credentials through this special concept, 5.0-litre V8 RC F coupe. There are two main chapters to how we have done this:

Firstly, we attempted to generate quality editorial coverage – in motoring, but also in the related areas of technology, design and style. To date, the story has been picked up by more than 100 titles.

As of today, we are using advertising across the news network and promoted social content to build on our momentum – expanding on our initial audiences to include brand enthusiasts and a broader luxury audience.

This will be rounded-off with a highly targeted cinema campaign in the coming weeks.



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