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Lexus has bikini models strut in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue

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It is like having a “booth babe” come out of the print advertisement. 

Overseas, Toyota has used a cross-dresser to sex up its advertising. Now the Japanese automaker, known for its conservative cars, is leveraging Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue published Tuesday and smartphone technology to juice up the advertising for its new Lexus IS here in the U.S.

In a print ad it calls “Blend Out,” Toyota said it cast three swimsuit models to pose with the Lexus IS and “camouflaged the models within the scene — actually making them part of the set design.”

Readers can use smartphones to scan a QR code on the ad so that “when they place their phones on the page, the models come to life, walking out from the background and revealing themselves in their swimsuits.”

The QR code triggers a video of the sexy models cavorting next to the new IS. The viewer can slide the phone to the next model in the advertisement and see her dancing, too. It’s pretty racy for a brand whose average buyer age is well into the 50s, especially considering that about half of IS sales are to women.

But IS sales skew younger, with the average age at 45, said Brian Bolain, Lexus corporate manager for product marketing and marketing communications. "This is the most important play we can make toward a younger audience," he said.

Toyota and Lexus are working to add spice to the brands, Mark Templin, the global product and marketing manager for the automaker's Lexus division, told the Times Highway 1 blog at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month. His marching orders from Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda are to "build cars that are fun to drive" and he believes the new IS, which goes on sale in June, will fulfill that expectation.

"Akio expects us to change the way the company behaves," Templin said. "He wants us to show the rest of the company how we can move fast, how we can make quicker decisions, take risks. He expects us to have fantastic design and great driving dynamics."

Lexus is looking to get some attention for the redesigned 2014 IS as competition heats up for buyers of entry-level luxury sports sedans.

Later this year, Mercedes-Benz will introduce the CLA250, its first front-wheel-drive sedan for the U.S. market, Infiniti will start selling its Q50 replacement for its G37 sedan and BMW will launch its 320i, priced about 10% below where the current 3-series line starts. All of these models will sell in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. 

The idea behind the "Blend Out" campaign is to get shoppers to look beyond the segment-leading BMW 3-series sedans and Mercedes-Benz C-class cars to other choices, Bolain said.

"We believe there are a group of consumers who, instead of blending in, want to blend out by making a unique choice and who want to stand out from the crowd," he said.

This is the second time Lexus has used technology that enhances a print advertisement.  It had a one-page advertisement in Sports Illustrated last fall that used an iPad rather than a smartphone to animate a pitch for the redesigned ES 350 sedan.

“We have coined the technology Cineprint – a combination of cinema advertising and traditional print. It is a way of putting in the consumer’s hands something that comes to life,” Bolain said. “It allows us to make more of a demonstration than we can do in a static print ad.”

Team One, Lexus ad agency in El Segundo, came up with the idea.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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