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Lexus Takes You Inside Their House Of Cards

Lexus ES Cutaway

With simple ideas, the little details can often make a big difference in the success of a campaign, taking it from good to great. As we’ve seen before, one example of this is the LeBron James ‘Chalk’ spot where Nike kept its ear to the street and incorporated an entire book’s worth of metaphor and meaning into 60 seconds of ad. For Lexus, their ‘Cards’ ad becomes more than just a sight gag when the behind the scenes story takes on a life of its own.

The premise of the ad is this: The 2009 Lexus ES has a very smooth engine that doesn’t vibrate. At all. According to Lexus, the ES is one of the smoothest vehicles anywhere, and to demonstrate that their claim isn’t based on a house of cards, they created one of the most fragile and unstable environments imaginable: a number of houses of cards built on top of and around the car. Then, they turned the car on. While the car is running, the houses all stay together, and it’s only when the door is closed after the experiment is over that we see everything come crashing down.

If the fact that the houses of cards all stayed together was the entire premise of the ad, you’d probably get the point, wonder for a second if it was CGI or actual houses of cards, and then never think of the ad again. However, if you follow the URL that Lexus predominately displayed at the end of the ad, you’re taken to a microsite that gives you the whole story behind the spot, and turns the simple idea into a very interesting ad.

Lexus Cardstacker

For one, the cards weren’t just stacked by some intern or stagehand. Instead, these cards were stacked by none other than Bryan Berg, a self-taught cardstacker that has set seven world records with his skills, including the current world record for his structure that towered more than 25 feet above the ground. In addition, Lexus proves that Bryan doesn’t use glue, tape, notching or anything else to keep the cards in place, just a steady hand and a lot of patience:

Second, you find out that this wasn’t just a one-day, in and out shoot. To build the more than 30 towers (some of which are more than 13 feet tall), Bryan stacked for 18 days, using more than 2,016 decks (108,864 cards) at a rate of about 112 decks per day. You also learn that Brian’s not perfect, and that some of the structures actually collapsed during the setup of the ad before the final shot was made.

Lastly (and in my opinion unfortunately) you find out that in order to make the cards all fall at once at the end of the ad, they rigged them with fishing line and then pulled them down on cue. I guess Lexus does earn points for admitting exactly what was real and what was fake, but I just wish they would have found some way to make the slamming of the door actually bring everything down with it so that none of the ad would be faked

The Good:

  • Lexus used a world record holding cardstacker, adding an entire sub-story to the experience.
  • The online and offline components of the campaign compliment and support each other.
  • The concept is simple, but there are a number of different levels for people that want to find out more.

The Bad:

  • Despite everything else being real, they had to fake the grand finale effect.
  • Lexus disabled video embeds from YouTube, drastically cutting down on the viral potential of the ad.

The Future:

  • Behind the scenes ads continue to play a large roll in broadcast campaigns, and companies opt for the real deal instead of looking for shortcuts when putting together seemingly simple ideas.

Lexus – Cards

Chalk Shows Nike Understands The LeBron James Market

LeBron James Candyman

When you’re a company as big as Nike (their current market cap hovers somewhere north of $34 billion), it’s easy to fall back on brand awareness/brand management when it comes time to roll out a new commercial, and that can lead to laziness and stagnation, as you figure that as long as you’re getting the brand name out there and into the public eye, then you’re moving the brand forward.

Just Do It

However, Nike has stayed on top of their game not because they’re willing to sit back and reap the rewards of previous successes, but because they’re willing to push the limits of what’s possible with brandvertising, and prove to the world that they’re not just on the cutting edge; they’re defining it.

LeBron James Season Six

Their latest spot for the new shoes from LeBron James, called the Season Six, features LeBron and his now famous pre-game routine in which he throws a handful of talcum powder into the air. It’s an electrifying moment, and ‘Chalk’ captures the emotion and the power of that moment and turns it into a strong, beautiful, and inspirational commercial:

However, what you might have missed are a few of the finer details sprinkled throughout the commercial:

  • The background music is a song called ‘Candyman’, originally recorded in 1997 by the British indie group Cornershop. Though it’s more than 10 years old, it still feels fresh even today, and along with the fact that Nike gave the chart topping Lil’ Wayne a cameo in the commercial, shows that Nike understands the music that their target audience listens to.
  • Lil’ Wayne, who grew up on the streets, is no stranger to the ‘candy’ (cocaine) during his rise to fame, and the symbolic brushing of the chalk from his shoes (rising from the streets to stardom, which mirrors LeBron’s rise), shows that Nike understands the streets that their target audience grows up on, and the challenge to rise that they are faced with.
  • Jamie Nared, whose cameo in the commercial features her playing against a team of boys (Jamie was kicked off of her high school’s basketball team for being too good) as well as a shot of her standing alone in the girls locker room shows that Nike understands the struggle for success that their target audience must go through.
  • In addition to LeBron and Jamie, the chalk is also thrown by a barber, an amateur basketball player, a student, fans at the game and a donut maker, covering them all and symbolizing the fact that inspiration from an amazing player like LeBron can touch the lives of almost everyone, and shows that Nike understands the power of the players that they sponsor. (Nike’s contract for LeBron was $90 million over 7 years, though they made it when his skills in the NBA were still untested. However, they were willing to support him because they believed in his potential. In addition, the fact that they sponsor the best of the best shows that they understand what it takes to be the best at any sport, and that their products are what players trust to get them to that level.)
  • The chalk thrown in the donut shop (a central meeting place for the working man) and the barbershop (a central meeting place for the urban community) shows that Nike understands the communities that their target audience lives in.

Jamie Nared Chalk

The mix of music, street, struggle, inspiration and community all combine to show that Nike understands the target audience that it is advertising to better than any other shoe company, and if you’re part of that target audience, then Chalk shows that Nike understands you as well. You feel a connection to the brand, and you feel inspired to use your skills like LeBron has used his to conquer whatever obstacles stand in your way.

Crowd Chalk

The Good:

  • Strong connection to the viewer shows that Nike understands the audience.
  • Complex commercials give different levels of meaning to each viewer.
  • ‘Hidden’ metaphors increases repeat watch-ability and pass-along.
  • Longer, slow motion cuts, a lack of color, and a basic storyline slow the message down and let the viewer enjoy the ad.

The Bad:

  • Subtle messages can get lost when viewers are only looking for the punch line.
  • Cutting edge, risky advertising (cocaine references) can lead to brand backlash.

The Future:

  • Commercials tell stories through hidden metaphors and deeper meaning that draws in the viewer and demonstrates shared understanding, building brand recognition but also forming connections that increase brand loyalty.

Nike Basketball

Hat Tip: Ian Schafer