Team One Gives Lexus SUV a Big Head Start

LOS ANGELES Lexus has started marketing its first gas-electric SUV, the RX 400h, nearly a year before its expected arrival, said Mike Wells, vice president of marketing.

Wells said the effort would build momentum for the vehicle as well as brand the company’s commitment to the new technology. A print campaign by Team One using only type and the new logo, the Lexus badge with a raised “h,” breaks this week in double-page spreads in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

The vehicle was shown for the first time at the Detroit Auto Show last week. Team One, El Segundo, Calif., created a 30-second type-on-white in-flight ad with the same theme as the spread. An outdoor campaign greeted visitors to the car expo. Copy states: “Now there’s an h in Detroit.”

“We’ve never started a campaign this early,” said Wells. “The ‘Power of h’ campaign looks to separate Lexus from the pack.”

Wells said not showing the vehicle in the ads, though strategically risky, will place the focus on the technology per se and plays to a luxury-car market sector that is not concerned about ostentatious displays of “green” vehicles.

“Clearly the purchase motivation for the 400h and the new Toyota Highlander is the increased power,” said Todd Turner, president of Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. “But I think they’ll market that and the green angle, which will most definitely work with that socio-economic class.”

“Toyota did a masterful job of executing the first two generations of Prius,” said David Cole, Center for Automotive Research, Ann Arbor, Mich., who previewed the car in Detroit. “And the 400h is well executed, too. But the industry is still proving the market dimensions of the technology. The early adopters are enthusiastic, but they could leave you holding the bag, as recently happened with the retro designs.”

Wells said the print campaign would run through year’s end, but television might be limited and never match the $50 million branding effort that launched last week. He said as the 400h comes to market in late autumn, “our strategy may still focus on print and outdoor.”