Put A Bow On It: 5 Questions With Lexus GM Brian Bolain


Lexus December to Remember 2017 Whisper ad red bow

Lexus is the grand old brand of America’s end-of-year auto sales “events.” It launched the “December to Remember” tagline and the red bow tied around a vehicle in the driveway in 1999.

During the last two decades, Lexus’s leadership in highlighting holiday sales has led to a transformation of the period—and particularly December—from a relatively sleepy time for U.S. auto sales into one of the most memorable and creative.

Car sales and the associated advertising have become an important part of the celebratory marketing mix in the fourth quarter, and an important close to the year for the entire industry. Now, nearly every automaker produces a U.S. holiday campaign.

“In the auto industry, there are a couple of key times to our year based on the cadence,” Brian Bolain, general manager of Lexus marketing, told brandchannel. “One of them is the end of the summer when we go through our model-year changeover, and the other is year-end when there’s some push to close strong. You’ll find that our two longest-lasting commercial event months are August and year-end sales events.”

December has become a major focus for Lexus and other luxury brands because typically, now, at least three of them are involved in a year-end horse race to see which can be the best-selling brand in the US. Mercedes-Benz has been the champion lately, but not long ago BMW and Lexus both held the crown.

This year, Lexus’s year-end campaign theme: “This season, let your inner child loose with the Lexus you’ve wished for all year. Experience the magic of the season at your local Lexus dealer. Experience Amazing.”

A trio of TV spots depicts adults as kids “letting out their inner child” as they celebrate seeing a new Lexus in their wintry driveway—tied, of course, with the now-iconic red bow. As they suddenly appear in their adult forms, family members join in the good cheer.

Brian Bolain - General Manager, Marketing, LexusBolain (right) shared more about the importance of holiday, and this year’s year-end sales event, which runs through January 2nd:

Brian, Lexus gets credit for pioneering year-end holiday sales marketing by auto brands. How did it get started?

The sales event dates back to 1999 in its current form, with the red bow and some version of the same jingle—we update it every year but it harkens back to the same tune—and the name, “December to Remember.”

We just really coincided with the industry’s cadence and tried to get some ownership, especially of December, to introduce this iconic element and blend Lexus into the notion of the holidays and family or friend time and the notion of giving.

What has “December to Remember” accomplished for Lexus brand over the years?

For us, the simplest statistic is that our best sales month ever was December 2015 and the second-best was December 2016. So having this event at the end of the year helps us close very strong.

One thing augmenting the end-of-the-year trend is leasing. If you put customers into a two- or three-year lease in December, many are going to be coming back in two or three years, so every big December sets us up for another big one.

These are very savvy shoppers, they start to understand there are patterns. The ones who are price-sensitive particularly understand there are patterns. We’ve almost coached them into doing this.

Lexus December to Remember

Has the “piling on” by every other brand affected the distinctiveness of Lexus’s message this time of year? No one else can touch that red bow.

We were fortunate in that we staked our claim early on some elements that are still ownable. We’ve certainly seen everyone else jump into the fray, but we’ve managed to hold ourselves separate from the pack.

How did you try to outdo yourselves this year?

We work really hard every year to come up with engaging advertising and something that draws people in, a family-oriented event. For a period of time we’d talk about a Lexus as a gift for an individual but now it’s framed that you’re going to buy a car anyway, but what a great benefit and celebration for the family. And this notion of letting out your inner child is something everyone can relate to, especially around the holidays.

Where do you stand this year vis-a-vis BMW and Mercedes-Benz for the end-of-the-year race to be the No. 1-selling automotive luxury brand in the United States—and does it matter?

We never set out to be number one. Number one is nice; number two, we try hard too. We want to be in the conversation and that’s the most important part of it. Part of being a tier one luxury brand is being in the conversation with other really respected brands.

I’m not sure we need to be No. 1 in sales but we don’t want to be forgotten. I’m going to guess we won’t be No. 1 this year but we’ll certainly be in the conversation. We’ll certainly exceed 300,000 units this year and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Get more insights in our Q&A series and suggest a Q&A via editor@brandchannel.com.

Subscribe to our free newsletter for more.