September 19th, 2002


Monitor Head

My art director and I have a name for the dull pain that throbs inside your skull and eye sockets. We call it "monitor head" because it’s caused by staring at your computer for a long-ass time.

I’ve been getting a lot of monitor head at work lately.

Lexus, our client, has been the top-selling luxury car company in America for two years now. This year it’s neck-and-neck with BMW for the top spot, and August was the best sales month in Lexus history. At a time when the economy is one big cesspool, life is roses down at Lexus. But you wouldn’t know it over at their headquarters. Antsy bastards.

The root of the problem is that while they thrived in their old role as underdog, being top dog is like that fancy new sweater that itches like a motherfucker.

It’s no secret why Lexus cars have sold so well (other than because of my utter brilliance, hyuck-hyuck). Senior execs, tax attorneys and orthodontists simply find them to be extremely well-built cars that provide more luxurious bang for the buck.

Well this value-oriented image doesn’t quite cut it with Lexus anymore. Too blue collar. They want something sexier. They’re the nerdy overachiever who wants to hang with the popular kids, BMW and Mercedes. Our agency is supposed to provide the miracle makeover - after which the suddenly gorgeous Lexus will walk down the staircase in a revealing prom dress while a slack-jawed Freddy Prinz Jr gazes with both lust and awe.

Thing is, Lexus can’t make up their damn minds about what their new image is supposed to be. It’s been going on for over a year and really got all hot and bothered this summer. All this shit reminds me of the time T wanted to change his hairstyle to something less conservative and more hip. So we took him to my girlfriend’s stylist. After the haircut, T took one look in the mirror and saw bangs for the first time in his life. Then, working furiously with his hands, T immediately styled his hair back to its old parted-to-the-left format.

Earlier this year, Lexus thought we weren’t quite getting it. So they went and hired an "outside" consultant, a big shot design agency, to help out with their image makeover.

The result was some sort of sad comedy. Sad because this whole brand assignment has been hellish for everyone involved. Comedy because the design agency, which I thought would at least be slick and cool, gets all their thinking and creativity at Walmart.

Yesterday, when we were presenting layouts down at Lexus, they suggested we use some of the photos done by the design agency as a cost-cutting measure. So I got to see their work for the first time. Expecting to be at least mildly impressed, I ended up giggling (a manly giggle of course) …

CLIENT: What’s so amusing?

ME: This guy - he’s riding a stallion on a beach in a Fabio shirt. And this other photo …

CLIENT: What about it?

ME: Oh c’mon: dude playing guitar in the woods while everybody sits transfixed around a cheese and fruit plate? This is so fu…

CLIENT: So what?

ME: Can’t speak. About to swallow my own tongue.

After a summer of this crap, it looks like Lexus will never be truly comfortable with any new image – whether it’s coming from us, the design agency or Freddie Prinz Jr. The new brand campaign will quietly run for a month, if that.

And then it’s back to the tried and true "Passionate Pursuit of Perfection." The same haircut Lexus has had since the day it was born.