Imagine being the Lexus marketing executive in charge of the new CT200h hybrid.
Here’s the dilemma: You manage a luxury brand that is highly prized by affluent older males. In fact, based on the demographic data on Lexus owners and on opinions about global warming, I would guess that there is almost an inverse relationship between owning a Lexus and concern over climate change. This makes a revamped Prius with a Lexus name badge your worst nightmare (even if it is a sweet looking ride.)
So you need to promote your new eco mean-machine, but you want to do so without offending your loyal customer base by suggesting that climate change might actually be a real concern. As marketing VP David Nordstrom said, Lexus wants to “appeal to both the eco-minded and those unwilling to compromise on luxury and style.”
When faced with such a problem, where taking a stand will surely ruffle the feathers of one side or the other, the best strategy is…well….to not take a stand. Buy the world a Coke, admit nothing, and obfuscate the issue. And that seems to be exactly what Lexus is doing.
Their CT200h campaign – called “The Darker Side of Green” has been sponsoring a series of “debates” around the country, featuring poster child climate deniers (and Fox News heart throbs) such as Phelim McAleer and Lord Monckton, and moderated by informed ‘heavy hitters’ such as comedians Sarah Silverman, Tracey Morgan, and Jamie Kennedy. As the Lexus flak says, “We thought The Darker Side of Green debate was an intriguing way to express this multi-faceted appeal of the new CT 200h.” To me it’s about as intriguing as having Mr. Bean facilitate a session on evolution vs. intelligent design, or perhaps asking Robin Williams to host a lively discussion on whether those Apollo missions actually landed on the moon forty years ago. (Mork says it’s a conspiracy!)
Apparently Lexus’ Nordstrom does not realize that the entire exercise undermines both the science and the urgency, while giving these science-challenged skeptics an undeserved platform and credibility. Worse yet, Lexus is willing to turn an issue of dire importance into a bit of a joke, simply to avoid appearing too eco-minded. Advertisers and the media have tremendous influence on culture and public opinion, whether they consider the impact of their voice or not. I know that Lexus just wants to sell cars, and in this case hybrids, but as Spiderman would say (if he worked on Madison Avenue), with a big media budget comes big responsibility.
Variety reports that marketing and PR consultant Patrick Courrielche, who pitched and has been promoting the “Darker Side of Green” debates for Lexus, has written extensively about “climategate”. He also seems to be a friend of Glenn Beck. Darker side indeed. If Courrielche is not laughing at Lexus’ ignorance in sponsoring these debates, he should be. I read one climate blog that asked “Is Lexus being played?” Hmmm….. only about as much as a church organ on Easter Sunday, or an Xbox 360 on spring break.
Since Toyota/Lexus is recalling almost everything else they produce these days, maybe its time for them to recall this campaign as well.
You can catch what may be the last (hopefully) ‘debate’ in Chicago on August 5th.
CC license from Flikr - Michi1308.