Looking Beyond Enthusiasts, Lotus Readies U.S. Campaign

The Cimarron Group is used to seducing viewers with speed, producing hyperkinetic previews for movies such as Terminator 2 and Collateral. Now, the Hollywood, Calif., theatrical-trailer company, which has been slowly working its way into more traditional advertising, is creating a campaign for the U.S. arm of Lotus, the legendary British sports-car company.

Cimarron’s fall print and online effort represents the automaker’s most significant U.S. advertising push in 10 years. And it’s unique in that Lotus doesn’t need much help selling its limited supply of cars. Only 2,300 of the handmade two-seaters are being created for the U.S. in 2005, and that number is already exceeded by customer deposits. (The customer waiting list is up to three years long.) Cimarron’s goal will be to retain consumers’ interest in a product they can’t actually acquire until 2008.

“They’ve already sold all their cars—we’re in a luxurious position,” said Nigel Williams, who joined Cimarron in January as evp and executive creative director after working as a cd on Kia at independent davidandgoliath, here. “So our ads don’t need to sell the cars,” but only to keep brand interest high.

The marketing push comes as Lotus expands its U.S. operations and rolls out the Elise, a more affordable model that the company not only wants to get in front of car enthusiasts, but also people who know little about the brand, said Mark O’Shaughnessy, director of sales and marketing for Lotus USA.

The initial execution, a full-page print ad, is set to run in October issues of car-enthusiast magazines such as Auto Week and Sports Car International, Williams said. The ad, which highlights the car’s famed performance via the use of lightweight materials and its relatively affordable price (about $40,000), shows a silver Lotus against a blue background. Text reads, “Imagine a car that can convert pure thought to driving.”

Cimarron will also attempt to tap into the obsessiveness of high-end sports-car aficionados with a Web site that’s slated to launch next month. In addition to an extensive timeline, the site offers comprehensive factory tours and 3D imagery allowing users to build their own virtual cars and drive them around test tracks. A 60-second, computer-generated movie will be available for use at Lotus dealerships and auto shows and potentially as a TV spot.

“People can wait for years [for the actual car],” Williams explained. “But here they can see it being built, get a sense of what’s happening along the way, get updates.”

Lotus USA’s ad budget last year was just $250,000, compared with $4 million spent by another elite sports-car nameplate, Maserati, during that period, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. (The more mass-market Porsche, by comparison, spent $45 million in ’03, according to Nielsen.)

Cimarron was assigned the business in July, having “relentlessly pitched” Lotus executives since the introduction of the 2005 Elise roadster at January’s Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, said Williams. The independent, which has focused on expanding its roster of clients outside the film industry for about a year, had put itself in a position for such a win with hires like that of Williams.

Cimarron’s recent ad projects include work for Universal Studios’ theme park here, its adjacent City Walk and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful gubernatorial campaign.

The shop’s movie-focused discipline is a “large advantage in dealing with corporate America,” said CEO Bob Farina. “We can use [it] to energize non-entertainment brands with Hollywood-style hype and entertainment-based promotions.”