Lexus’s activities at this year’s exhibition are based on the concept of “bringing the world to the show”. For a period prior to the event’s opening in October, the company (working in conjunction with Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon in Tokyo) invited people globally via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to pose questions to the brand using the hashtag #LexusInTokyo about its car models, initiatives and future plans.
The highlight of Lexus’s presence at the show is, as one might expect, the unveiling of new vehicles, which include the LF FC (Lexus Future - Fuel Cell) concept car (making its global debut) and the GS F (making its Japan debut).
Lexus replies to the questions directly with images or video footage or, when appropriate, via Lexus engineers or celebrity spokespeople. These include Lexus racing driver Juichi Wakisaka, who won Japan’s Super GT500 race in 2006 and 2009, and Daisuke Ito, also a GT500-series driver, both of whom respond directly from their own Twitter accounts (Wakisaka himself has more than 40,000 followers while Ito has close to 8,500). The full ongoing conversation across the different social platforms is curated using Tagboard, which appears on the Tokyo Motor Show home page.
Antoine Malin, social-media manager for the global account at Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon in Tokyo, said the aim was "to recreate an offline experience online in a premium and unique way".
"Obviously most of the Lexus fans will not be able to attend the Tokyo Motor Show, and we want them to have the opportunity to discover it as if they were on the ground," Malin said.
David Micotto, a senior web producer and planner at Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon who worked on the project, said much of the engagement prior to the show was around guesses from the public as to the cars that Lexus would present. Post-unveiling, questions became more specific.
The initiative marks the highest level of social engagement for Lexus so far around a motor show. In particular, it is the first time for the brand to involve personalities such as racing drivers.
Atsushi Takada, GM of brand management for Lexus International, said the three-year aim since 2012 had been to turn Lexus into a “cool and emotionally appealing brand”. Referring to the decision to involve people like Wakisaka, he described the driver as “a symbol of the automotive fun-to-drive experience” and someone who, by interacting directly with people, went some way to transforming Lexus “into more of a lifestyle experience—so people are not just thinking about automobiles”.
“He’s versed in car culture and also very handsome,” Takada noted.
Takada acknowledged that relying on Lexus’s own online platforms to generate positive emotions from the universe of regular car buyers was not enough. “Before potential buyers purchase a car, most visit our owned media,” he said. “But owned media alone cannot really boost or build brand image because only potential [Lexus] buyers visit such websites.”
The thinking behind this year’s social-media initiative, he said, is to heighten the interest of those already interested in buying a Lexus, but also to draw in new drivers who might not have considered the brand before. Simply posting content from an event like the motor show on YouTube, he added, was unlikely to attract much interest.
Malin said content creation was key to success on social media for brands—but that does not mean "feeding a monster with content every day". "It's about finding the right balance and uniqueness in content in order to create engaging posts in the long term," he said.
The most effective social-media initiatives, Malin said, feature good community management and exclusive content for social media. They have the potential to "produce an ongoing journey, allow the community to influence the experience, introduce like-minded people to each other, and reward them in such a way that they want to invite friends to join".
Micotto added that luxury brands still tend to think of two-way communications as risky, in that entering into closer proximity with consumers “takes away the luxury aspect of it”. That view is flawed, he suggested.
“It’s great when brands like Lexus are bold enough to take that step and show that it can be done in a premium way; to show that social media isn’t something to fear in terms of lowering brand image," Micotto said. "We should be able to do brand communications [on social platforms] while enhancing the image.”
Looking ahead, Takada said Lexus would continue to try to build its brand through softer, lifestyle-related activities and content. The direction is in line with recent comments by Akio Toyoda, chief executive of parent company Toyota, who said in an interview with an automotive publication that Lexus's focus would shift from practical to more glamorous cars. From a marketing perspective, this will include employing technology “not only for practical use but also for more creative use”, he said, as in the recent example of developing the Hoverboard, which was on prominent display at the Motor Show. Video footage of the technology has so far drawn more than 12 million views.
Further efforts to improve the definition of Lexus as a brand at this year’s motor show include an exhibition of premium items such as clothes, shoes and accessories designed exclusively for Lexus in tie-ups such as with Brooklyn Museum, a high-quality Japanese leather goods manufacturer.
Takada said he agreed with a statement from the much-quoted marketing professor Philip Kotler that “interactive value sharing with customers” has become much more important than presenting a “one-way value proposition”.
“I can say these things easily, but actually [doing it] is not so easy,” he said frankly.
The Tokyo Motor Show 2015 runs until 8 November.
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