If you saw bizarre images flashing on a tall building near Staples Center and heard pounding industrial/techno music after leaving a Lakers playoff game, don't worry, you weren't hallucinating. It's a radical new advertising campaign launched by Lexus.
The luxury car label is attempting to attract a younger, hipper consumer to buy its new sporty IS 300 sedan, which hit showrooms last week. The car competes directly with BMW's 3 series, which also appeals to a younger, upscale market.
To beat out BMW, Lexus decided it needed to do something unusual that would grab people's attention. The solution was to use projection media, which Lexus has used at three Los Angeles sites and is rolling out in Venice this week.
Beginning at 8:30 p.m., moving images are beamed onto the sides of large buildings or blank billboards, often in places where pedestrian traffic is high.
The advertising campaign debuted June 9, the same night the Lakers played game two of the NBA finals at Staples Center. Lexus and Team One Advertising, the El Segundo-based agency that developed the campaign with Herring Media Group of Sausalito, set up a projector and sound system in the parking lot next to the Holiday Inn on South Figueroa Street.
As the sun disappeared, the lights went on and the ads were projected in giant images until midnight on the side of the nearly 100-foot-tall hotel.
About 20,000 fans saw the ad as they spilled out of the new sports arena.
"We didn't know what to expect. But people on the street were dancing to the music from the projected ad, "said Bonnie Chan, a spokeswoman for Team One Advertising. "We've gotten some really good comments."
If spectators weren't attracted by the pounding music, they were probably roped in by the attention-grabbing images that spanned the side of the Holiday Inn. The series of six spots last a little more than two minutes and then repeat.
There is a giraffe woman (a giraffe-spotted human body with a woman's head) gyrating her limbs. A headless man wearing a leather vest over his bare chest pops into the foreground, also wiggling back and forth.
Other images portray hands growing out of fingers, legless lizard men, and sword-carrying gladiators. "How far do you have to go to get a reaction?" reads the superimposed script. "Just this far. The New IS."
Lexus hopes the ads will appeal to techie types who have lots of money to burn from working long hours on Web sites and want to reward themselves with a fast car that costs $30,500.
"We are looking to sell our new car to a younger buyer than Lexus buyers have been in the past," said Chris Conard, national advertising manager for Lexus. "We are looking at a median age of 35 to 40 for the IS, as opposed to someone around 50."
Unusual images looming on the sides of buildings represent one way to appeal to a younger crowd. But it isn't the kind of advertising that most companies would use to sell their products. It is often difficult to get the proper city permits to shine images on buildings. And such tactics tend to be more effective if you have a large number of pedestrians passing by who can stop to watch the short show.
But it has certain, unique benefits. "Because it is different, the ad tends to stand out and it spreads by word of mouth, by people saying, 'Did you see that?'" explained David Stewart, a marketing professor at USC. "You get a little more bang for your buck. The objective is to get attention and make people aware of the product. It probably does that."
Projecting a billboard on the side of a building is a clever way of getting past city ordinances, which forbid wall-sized painted advertisements. Lexus was able to get city permits for projecting its ads at four Los Angeles locations. But it had to scout out 20 sites before it came up with four.
"It was a very tough thing to find locations (that the city would approve)," said Bonnie Chan, spokeswoman for Team One Advertising. "There are not too many locations where you can legally run projection media. And we are going by the book."
In addition to its downtown debut, the ad has been shown at Sunset and San Vicente boulevards in Brentwood, and at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood. It is scheduled to be projected on a blank billboard on Lincoln Boulevard and Zanja Street in Venice all this week. It has also been seen in San Francisco. Later, the ad will be shown at three locations in New York City.
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