What Sound Does a Lexus CT 200h Make? Ask Ben

June 7, 2011
Some time ago I commented on an ad for the Lexus CT 200h and pointed out how it used music to convey the car’s message of clean and exciting fun. It was one in a long series of Lexus ads that used music and sound to define the brand. Music is one of the few things in life that humans are hardwired to understand (if not always love, for example, heavy metal, or New Age music).

But let’s take a step back and see why Lexus is taking this approach. This refined Japanese brand has always sought to mix it up with the German heavyweights, and in North America at least, it has been successful in terms of sales and establishing itself as a brand that prizes refinement and reliability above all else. Passion and excitement were distant third and fourth place entries in the brand definition.

But the uber-German car makers Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz (and Porsche, too) responded with equally great product and marketing that went the opposite direction. It was about new tech, stunning design, high performance, and an emphasis on pedigree and engineering DNA, something Lexus lacked.

2011 Lexus CT 200h

2011 Lexus CT 200h

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Yet Lexus stayed the course, and focused on being its own brand, and mixing in some passion and major tech (IS-F and LS 600h, anyone?). Yet Lexus cars and the brand seem bent on this refinement and sound/music theme. So it was with some confusion that I watched this latest ad for Lexus in the U.K. It’s quite simple and nice. From the back seat of a CT 200h you hear mom ask toddler Ben, “what sound does a train make?” And then a motorbike, and an airplane. And each time Ben responds with the appropriate kids’ version of that machine’s corresponding sound.

And then mom asks “what sound does a car make?” and Ben remains silent. Mom prods him, but Ben stays mum. And then you get the pitch - the new CT 200h is the quietest car in its class, hence the muted response from Ben. Given its hybrid engine and Lexus’ prolific sound-deadening, this would make sense.

This is a cute Saatchi & Saatchi ad and very likable, but Lexus doesn’t seem sure what it wants to say about its cars. The LS class stands for peerless refinement and motoring isolation. The IS and GS are about performance, the RX is for the urban cowboy who craves safety and a command seating position. And the CT 200h? It’s clean and quiet. Well, so are lots of other cars, that are way faster, better looking and in some cases, just as economical (read: diesel).

So Lexus, what is the brand message? The ad is good, but give me one message. The “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” needs some spice.

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