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Team One Combines Lexus Biz

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In a departure from the marketing approach commonly used by car makers, Team One Advertising said it will unify the dealer and corporate components of its $250 million Lexus account.

Brian Sheehan, shop co-chairman and CEO, said the move would enable the client to maximize its media buying clout while preventing its ad message from becoming fragmented. It comes at a time when Lexus is eager to appeal to a slightly less well-heeled demographic without compromising the brand's upscale image.

Although dealer groups typically favor ads that stress financing terms or other devices aimed at generating traffic in the showroom, Sheehan said the luxury-car maker's dealer group is a unique case.

"Lexus dealers care about the brand as much as the factory does,'' said Sheehan. "As the [Lexus] business gets bigger and more complicated, it becomes more important that the dealers avoid brand fragmentation."

John Powers, who has been promoted from management director of the Lexus Dealer Association at the agency to executive director of Team One, a newly created position, will oversee the unified account structure. He joined the El Segundo, Calif.-based shop three years ago from Young & Rubicam's New York office, where his responsibilities included managing Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln-Mercury account.

Powers noted that Lexus has relied heavily on input from its 187 dealers as it plotted a course for the company's overall branding efforts. Yet ads created for the dealer group have focused more on luxury features and cachet than price promotions typical in dealer ads, he said.

"What makes the relationship [between Lexus and its dealers] so special is that they both want to hear what the other has to say,'' said Powers.

He added that the decision to unify the account will also intensify the focus on the new Lexus ES 300 and ensure a consistent message. With a base price of under $33,000, the sedan ranks as the lowest-priced entry from the El Segundo, Calif.-based automaker this year. Instead of stressing the price point, however, the marketing has centered on the concept of "A new world luxury.''

The 2002 model is also the focus of one of the most ambitious ad efforts orchestrated by Team One in the 12 years since it was formed by Saatchi & Saatchi. In addition to four TV spots and a movie-theater ad, the pro motion includes a "Find the commercial" contest for TiVo users.