News & Views

Interview / Realness Is The New Luxury

by Kristina Dimitrova

To celebrate the launch of the new Lexus RX, the luxury automotive brand hosted a meticulously crafted one-night-only immersive theatre performance. Held at London’s Mondrian hotel and a secret underground bank vault, the experience allowed guests to take centre-stage in a performance recreating the Lexus RX ad, alongside Hollywood actor and producer Jude Law, luxury British tailor Joshua Kane and elite cast of actors from the world of immersive theatre.

We speak to Spiros Fotinos, Lexus head of brand communications, Europe, about the changing luxury landscape and the future of automotive brands in an age of technology.

Can you tell me a little bit about Lexus as a brand and what tonight was all about?

A key thing for us is to treat everybody like a guest in our home. If you invite somebody to your house as a special guest, you think about what you’re going to cook, what wine you’re going to serve, how you’re going to set the table, what music you’re going to play. You think of the whole experience. If you invite someone else, you might serve a different dish or play different music. When you make that commitment – to treat everybody as a special guest in your home – you need to be able to cater for that as a brand.

If you look at how marketing has evolved, one of the biggest challenges is how do you tell your story in a way that is compelling, intriguing and gets people excited, because we’re so overly immersed and overly exposed to everything. We loved the idea of immersive theatre because what you go through is completely unique to you and no one had the exact same experience. Your interaction with us as a brand was really personal. This is the kind of mentality that we try to get across from an experience perspective, in our showrooms, through our salespeople. Buying a car is not the same for everybody. It’s not something that you go through every week. Just like tonight, there is no formula because everybody comes in with their own scenario.

What does the new customer journey for buying a car look like and how is Lexus addressing that?

Consumers are much better informed now. The dialogue has fundamentally changed and the role of the salesmen has transformed from leading the process to facilitating it.

Technology adds a new layer in terms of what the experience might be. You need to decide, as a brand, whether you want technology to lead or be an enabler. For Lexus, technology can never be leading. It’s that human interaction that is so important. I need to be able to give my team the technology that enables them to do a better job. It’s not about augmenting or shortcutting that. Technology makes it very easy to shortcut the process but that stops you from treating everybody as an individual. If you ask someone to tell you about an amazing experience they’ve had, it’s never about the technology. It’s about how someone made you feel. For us that human factor is very important because it’s part of who we are. We can’t function unless we can really make you feel special. And technology needs to support us in being able to do that.

We have seen a lot of car manufacturers who no longer associate with the term automotive, but rather position themselves as ‘mobility brands’ to reflect the change in consumer behaviour. What’s your take on that?

If, over time, consumers and ownership models evolve, the relationship with their car changes, we need to be open minded to be able to cater for that. At the same time, I don’t think we need to be pushing that onto anybody. There is always a group of early adopters and a group that doesn’t like change. We adapt in a way that reflects our brand commitment.

How do you see people interacting with connected and even driverless cars?

A lot of the news around this come from non-automotive companies which is interesting because it adds a different perspective. We think that the driver needs to have the technology to support him and facilitate the driving process. It’s not that you completely give up and let the car do what it wants. At least our thinking is not in that direction. The driver will still have a role to play. Our ambition is zero accidents, which means assisting and supporting people to do that.

What is Lexus’ approach to marketing?

I’d like to think that we look at marketing a little bit more holistically. For example, we talked to Jude Law in the first place, it was never just about him appearing in a commercial. It was about transcending that into an experience that people can get more out of.

Tell me more about the lifestyle around the brand. Why is it important to engage with consumers on subjects like sports, design and art?

I think any brand is trying to understand how they can exist outside of their natural space. With our Design Award at Milan Design Week and Short Films competition, we’re trying to enable a younger audience to express their individual perspective of what a really cool design or a short film might be. So they get a lot out of the process but we also learn a lot about how they think and how they interact with us.

How is the definition of luxury changing? 

From a consumer perspective luxury doesn’t mean ownership any more. In the past, the fact that you could own something was a representation or luxury. Today it’s what you do with it. That transformation from possessing to experiencing is one thing that we’ve seen. The vanguard of luxury consumers is more and more in this experience space. There’s also something about the feeling that you’ve earned a specific experience which makes it luxurious.

At the same time, you look at luxury in its fundamentals. It’s still is very much about the quality of materials, craftsmanship, exclusivity. All those fundamentals are still there but the way we experience them has changed.

Is technology making luxury more accessible?

Of course. Think about the potential of 3D printing or virtual reality. Technology is making luxury accessible but it’s also bringing back realness as the new luxury. The future of luxury is ‘real’. Having done something for real, having a product that has been made by hand and not machines.

Tell me about the Lexus Hoverboard (Slide). How did you decide to move from luxury cars to fancy skate grounds?

Tonight was just a different manifestation of the hoverboard. It’s about fusing technology with new forms of art and bringing that to life in an exciting way. Being able to do something for real and going through the process of actually making it is just as interesting for us as having the hoverboard floating. You can’t imagine how many times we heard ‘It can’t be done’. The fact that we did it says a lot about who we are.

We apply this thinking when it comes to our cars. When we launched our hybrid range everyone thought we were crazy. When we presented the concept of our LC500 model, people thought ‘There’s no way you can physically build this’ and ‘Lexus will never do this.’ But you need to push the boundaries of what technology can achieve and collaborate with people from different disciplines to make that happen.