Lexus goes for a classic look

Client: Lexus, A Division of Toyota CanadaProduct: Lexus LS 400Agency: SMW DirectSachi Mukerji, general manager of Toronto-based SMW Direct, says a direct mail piece it created for luxury car manufacturer Lexus to entice past enquirers to test drive its LS400 model,...

Client: Lexus, A Division of Toyota Canada

Product: Lexus LS 400

Agency: SMW Direct

Sachi Mukerji, general manager of Toronto-based SMW Direct, says a direct mail piece it created for luxury car manufacturer Lexus to entice past enquirers to test drive its LS400 model, ‘possesses the style and tone of voice that is absolutely right for Lexus and its customers.’

‘The package follows the classic Lexus house style – a black envelope with a gold embossed logo,’ Mukerji says.

We don’t offer trinkets or trash,’ he says. ‘There is no p.s., no underlining. It’s very clean, very clear, very upscale, if I can put it that way.’

While the style was understated, the objective was not, Mukerji says.

‘Every piece of direct mail that we do is geared to one basic objective: `put bums on seats’, to put it somewhat crudely, because the conversion level, once we get them to take a test drive, is very high,’ he says.

Car to prospects

As a value-added proposition, the company offered to bring the car to the prospects, rather than have them come to the showroom.

Mukerji says the mailing pulled in a ‘respectable’ number of enquiries for test drives and further information.

Q. Why was this piece successful? What made it work?

A. For three reasons.

The creative treatment was outstanding.

Secondly, it was a clever move on our part to go back to people who had enquired about the car in the past.

Thirdly, it had a very strong offer.

The people we are talking to are very busy people, and by saying that we will bring the car to you, all you have to do is supply the time, it was an attractive proposition.

Q. On what level were you trying to generate a response – an emotional or intellectual level?

A. Lexus is sold on the basis of the best value for the best-engineered car in the world. It’s an extremely sound business and investment proposition.

People don’t buy a Lexus because it’s got a great badge.

People buy a Lexus because it’s extremely good value for an extremely well-educated driver. So it’s an understated statement.

It think it’s the tone of voice which is most important. It’s never over-the-top. We never use adjectives such as ‘marvelous.’

It’s done with style and flair, and a fair amount of wit.

It also follows that the Lexus style is maintained – everything looks like it comes from the same person.

Q. Excluding your own work, what have been some of the best examples of direct mail?

A. I’ve been in the country only one year and nine months. And what I’ve seen so far at the RSVP Awards has been up on a big screen.

Direct mail is such a tactile medium. You have to open the envelope and read the letter at leisure.

Q. What qualities do successful direct mail pieces have in common?

A. A very strong proposition. A very clear statement about the product or service itself. A clearly marked out response and call to action.

And above all, a package that does not insult the intelligence.

I really do believe a lot of direct mail insults the intelligence of the person who gets it.

We’re largely to blame, the industry, for our image as merchants of junk mail.

Q. How important is personalizing the letter?

A. I think it is very important.

But it is important only if [the direct mail communication] is relevant. I get a lot of cold letters, and I often wonder how they got my name.

What they are offering me has nothing to do with what I really want to buy. And I resent that, to be honest.

When you’re writing a personalized letter, you’ve got to be gentle and polite, because you are using a medium that is highly intrusive.

But you are also giving them something they are looking for at that point in time. Personalization there makes a lot of sense to me.

Q. People are bombarded with direct mail offers every day. How do you make yours stand out from the rest?

A. I think the Lexus works as an example. It is discreet. It doesn’t shout out at you. You are almost flattered to receive a Lexus mailing.

It is the way it is presented. It reflects the amount of time and money we spent designing it, writing it and printing it.

Q. Is there a hierarchy of objectives, creatively?

A. My first objective is to get them to open the envelope.

After that, have the person sit down and digest what the offer is all about.

And after that, to soak in the quality that the package exudes, or more importantly, the quality that the car exudes.

Combination

And it’s all those things put together which makes them pick up the telephone or fill out the card and ask for more information.

So, I wouldn’t assign a hierarchy to it.

Q. How hard should you push for a response in a direct mail offer?

A. Not very hard. Not at all.

That is the language of Lexus. Make a point and the client should be able to make up his own mind.

That is the difference between the sort of work we do and that of other direct marketing agencies.

Q. Do you see direct mail primarily as a support for mass media advertising or as a stand-alone medium?

Q. I strongly believe that it is a part of the integrated communication system.

I know from my experience that direct marketing is known to bring in much higher levels of response when it backs up a general advertising campaign.

Foundation

American Express would not have had incredible success around the world if the advertising wasn’t there to provide the foundation for the direct marketing campaign.

There are a lot of things direct marketing cannot do, such as establish an image. That is the role of general advertising.

But once that image is established, if the direct mail is designed and written in the same sort of style, which arrives on the back of the general advertising campaign, then I believe direct mail can enhance brand value as well as pulling in a response.

Q. How are the rules changing in direct mail? What are you doing in creative that you might not have done two years ago?

A. We’re moving into a society in the ’90s, where in Canada, probably because of its multinational mix, the recent statistical evidence in Toronto shows that 38% do not consider English or French to be their mother language.

One of the areas we are getting into quite heavily, not just for Lexus, but for some of our other clients as well, is adapting to the future by using audio and audiovisual and video demonstrations of a product.

There could be a time in the future when the Lexus package that goes out won’t be a brochure, it will be a disk. These are the sort of changes that we have to adapt to.

Q. If you look at the winners of this year’s RSVP Awards, what trends do you see creatively?

A. I think the trend is toward a higher level of creative product. But again, I haven’t been here long enough to judge.