Lexus Hopes Clapton Will Strike Right Chord

Lexus hopes ol' Slowhand can help sell $40,000 cars quickly. The luxury label of Toyota, with U.S. headquarters in Torrance, this weekend will unveil two TV ads linking performer Eric Clapton's attributes to those of its automobiles. Lexus sponsors Clapton's 1998 U.S. tour. The spots feature "pop-ups," similar to those used on VH-1's "Pop-Up Video" program, to tout such things as Clapton/Lexus' "breathtaking acceleration" and "effortless shifting." Besides print ads and displays, the promotional campaign includes Clapton CDs exclusive to Lexus. Total spending by Lexus and its dealers will approach $10 million. Lexus isn't the first company to build an ad campaign around a rock star. Sprint did so last fall with the Rolling Stones. Lexus marketing manager Steven Sturm said the company chose Clapton for his "cross-generational, 30s-to-50s appeal." Clapton, who turns 53 on Monday--the day his tour kicks off--is at the high end of Lexus' target age range of affluent, 25-to-54-year-olds. Though he's had well-publicized bouts with substance abuse--he was reportedly in rehab when his "After Midnight" commercial for Michelob aired in the late 1980s--Lexus feels confident that's all behind him now. "He survived, and he's wiser for it," said Valerie Heine, director of event marketing for Lexus agency Team One Advertising. "What we looked at was his tremendous dedication to his craft. That never wavered."

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