Has Lexus hooligan ad vandalized its brand?

So what's the story?
OK, class, let's try a spot of word association. Our words today are 'Lexus' and 'hooligan.' Quickly now, what scenario pops into your mind the fastest when you put the two together? Are you perchance visualizing a grotty gang of roving thugs?

So what’s the story?

OK, class, let’s try a spot of word association. Our words today are ‘Lexus’ and ‘hooligan.’ Quickly now, what scenario pops into your mind the fastest when you put the two together? Are you perchance visualizing a grotty gang of roving thugs? A bunch of baseball bats and a whole lot of broken glass? Is the term ‘hot-wire’ in there somewhere?

Well, that’s not quite what sprang to mind with the folks at Toyota Canada’s Lexus division when their agency, Toronto’s DCC Communications, suggested advertising the sporty IS 300 with the headline ‘Unleash your inner hooligan.’

In fact, says Toronto-based marketing manager Doug Lunau, the Lexus team liked it as much as they did a second headline they greenlighted for a rotating, full-page newspaper campaign that ran in the National Post, the Globe and Mail and other leading newspapers across Canada this July and August. Another doozy of dissonance, it was: ‘The IS 300. It’s the member of the Lexus family that ran away and got in trouble with the authorities.’

What’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘hooligan’?

Young street rough, member of a street gang.

What’s Lexus’ definition in the context of this ad?

‘We don’t think the word has negative connotations,’ says Lunau. ‘Risky maybe, but not negative. Our definition of ‘hooligan’ would be sort of young and exuberant and fun…. I don’t think the headline is meant to have all that much depth. It’s just worded that way to attract a younger audience in a fairly aggressive fashion.’

What’s the demo and what does the IS 300 cost?

Lunau says the demo is ‘primarily male, mid-30s, with income in the $60,000-70,000 range.’ Its base price is $37,820.

Doesn’t the ‘hooligan’ ad contradict Lexus’s luxury connotation?

‘Luxury cars can also have a performance side to them and this particular model, within our brand, is that vehicle. This car is heavy on personality, so it needs to be promoted in that style to attract the attention of our target buyers,’ says Lunau.

Echoes DCC’s account supervisor Matt Freeman: ‘This car breaks the Lexus brand mold, so we thought the advertising should do so as well.’

But not everyone would agree. ‘Lexus has created a powerful brand perception with their ‘relentless pursuit of perfection’ approach,’ says Peter Heywood, VP of brand strategy in the Toronto office of Watt global brand consultancy.

‘But they also painted themselves into a corner that they’re now apparently trying to get out of for the younger market they envisage for the IS 300. ‘Unleash your inner hooligan’ may overcome Lexus’s reputation of being a little bit stodgy among that demo. But [this approach] sets up a perceptual disconnect. What’s the salesman in those luxury showrooms going to do when someone wants to see this model – go change his clothes?’

Does the kicker line in the ad pay off ‘hooligan’?

Oh, yes. It is: ‘…you should arrange for a test scream now.’