Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
The Lexus RX hit the market 20 years ago and has risen in the years since to become the luxury carmaker's top seller. As the model’s fifth generation took to the streets recently, the brand set out on a campaign that, for its two decades worth of drivers, would feel personal. The wide-ranging result brings a modern spin to “The Wizard of Oz” with messaging designed to resonate broadly and with niche audiences.
Finding a message that would resonate meant analyzing a slew of priority audiences to find one common trait, said Lisa McQueen, media manager for Lexus. A theme of “relentless optimism” is the bonding link that market research ended up pointing to. Using the findings as the driver, Lexus created its “Never Lose Your Edge” campaign, which debuted Oct. 4. The effort sees activations across the brand’s digital channels, linear and connected TV (CTV), out-of-home (OOH) and also includes a heavy influencer component.
Representing the carmakers largest audio investment to date, key to “Never Lose Your Edge” are six campaign spots — one intended for the general market and five focused on specific target demographics for Lexus including Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ+, among others — each telling a different story, but all uniting under the hope of taking viewers off the beaten path.
“[RX drivers] are not okay being content with the success and achievements that they’ve accomplished both professionally and in their personal lives, they like to live their lives like there’s no finish line,” said McQueen.
So long, Yellow Brick Road
Together with agency TeamOne, Lexus worked to create a general market spot suitable for a breadth of audiences that would still portray the “Never Lose Your Edge” message. After exploring ideas of a theme that would resonate, the two landed on “The Wizard of Oz” as a source of inspiration.
“[‘The Wizard of Oz’] has this whole idea around taking the road less traveled, not doing what’s expected but taking bold new turns,” McQueen said. “We felt it had deep broad universal appeal — iconic — and then being able to put our own sort of modern spin on it, we felt could be really interesting.”
In one spot, titled, “Unfollow,” a family is seen driving the latest RX down a modernized yellow brick road when the driver opts to follow a different path, leading the family into a picturesque, magical environment headed straight toward Emerald City. The action is set to the tune of a reimagined version of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Since its release, the message has been well received, McQueen said.
“The positive response that we've had from just consumers about the spot, it's definitely breaking through. It’s being loved by all audiences, regardless of your age or demographic,” she continued.
Driving it home
For an additional five campaign spots, Lexus delved deeper into market research to find messages that would resonate with specific demographics while maintaining themes of ambition as the “connective tissue” to link each spot back to one another, McQueen said. The team worked with media company Walton Isaacson for spots focused on Hispanic, Black and LGTBQ audiences and with IW Group for work targeting Asian viewers.
One spot, “Quiet Night,” shows a well-dressed Lexus RX driver taking the car on a series of new adventures. He is asked “Are you up for something new?” and responds “Anytime,” after being seen playing with a band in a club, journeying through a convenience store to a hidden hangout and ultimately meeting up with someone in a scenic spot just in time for sunrise. The spot is meant to depict a Black visionary defining his legacy in his own terms.
“With our Black audience, what Never Lose Your Edge means for them is that they’re driven for generations, they want to transform their resiliency, they want to show how their heritage is transforming into a modern legacy,” McQueen said.
Another spot, “Radio Duel” is meant to highlight the Hispanic community and features an RX driver and passenger playfully debating which music to play on their drive, with the two seemingly sharing two entirely different tastes. The debate is meant to be a nod to the ever-evolving nature of the community, McQueen said.
“With our Hispanic audience, for them it means that there are no definitions they need to live their lives by,” she continued. “They can be confident and inspired to live their lives without being hampered by expectations.”
A third spot, “Extra,” highlights LGBTQ+ culture and all of the “extra'' add-ons in the newest Lexus RX that make it stand out. Other spots are star-studded, like “See The Future,” which features former Miss Great Britain Preeti Desai, the first woman of Indian descent to earn the title, and sees her reimagine a sherwani and sari created by designer Bibhu Mohapatra. The last spot, “Drive Within Us,” features actor Daniel Dae Kim and his son Zander Kim and is meant to nod to the importance of previous generations while paving the way for the future.
“For Asian audiences, [‘Never Lose Your Edge’] could mean that though you're rooted in tradition, you have a lot of drive, and your style from your ancestors can help you express yourself and choose your own path,” McQueen said.
Coming to life
Beyond targeted ad spots, Lexus strategized ways to bring its latest RX to the forefront through experiences that feel meaningful. For its campaign, the brand established five custom media partnerships and enlisted 27 different personalities and influencers across different sectors including culinary, fashion and food, among others, McQueen said.
“When we think about how motivated [target consumers] are themselves to never lose their edge, it was always tied to a major passion point that would fall into the fashion industry or culinary,” she continued. “Wellness was another big area, or fitness and sports.”
In one of its first tie-ups to roll out, Lexus partnered with W Magazine and gender-fluid fashion designer Harris Reed to reimagine Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, using them as inspiration while crafting the Lexus “Ruby Red Rims,” that include gloss-sealed glitter, LED lights and a ruby red Lexus logo. The rims were revealed at W Magazine’s 50th anniversary party in New York and also see inspiration from Reed’s spring 2023 ready-to-wear collection.
“With ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as a foundation for our all-new RX launch spot, we were excited about the possibilities of connecting our wheels to Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. The final design and thoughtful interpretation of the ‘Ruby Red Rims’ far exceeded our expectations,” said Vinay Shahani, vice president of Lexus marketing in a release.
On the culinary front, Lexus created video-on-demand content for Fire TV viewers in partnership with Amazon Ads and Whole Foods Market that features culinary artists Ludo Lefebvre and Dean Fearing, who prepare tailgate snacks using ingredients from Whole Foods.
Targeting those interested in wellness, the brand partnered with Spartan Race, which hosts obstacle course races, to create the “Lexus Discomfort Zone” and challenge contestants to break through their comfort zone through a series of tough challenges. Additionally, Lexus enlisted Well+Good as its official wellness media partner.
Lexus also teamed up with Sports Illustrated, professional driver Rhys Millen and retired NFL star Jamaal Charles in a content series designed around teaching Charles to be the “World’s Fastest Dad,” guiding the football player through a custom racing course that represents getting done all of the Sunday “dad duties” before kick off of game, McQueen said.
Running such a wide spread campaign makes having a strong unifying message critical, per McQueen.
“What I'm most proud of is how strongly the work hangs together, regardless of the audience that it's intended for,” she said. “The fact that all of the work as a collective pays off on the idea of never losing your edge while really showcasing our new RX is thrilling.”