As economy slows, luxury still rolling

The Baltimore Sun

Here's today's consumer question: Didn't Lexus get the memo about the recession we're in?

Don't they read the newspapers or watch cable news at corporate headquarters?

I ask this because the luxury car company just trotted out two new commercials for its annual "December to Remember" ad campaign.

And these new spots might be even more pretentious and elitist than all the others.

You know how these "December to Remember" commercials go.

Generally they involve one spouse surprising the other Christmas morning with an over-the-top gift: a brand new Lexus with a big red bow on top.

This usually takes place in the driveway of a sprawling home in a pricey neighborhood, with one spouse gasping in astonishment at his or her good fortune and the other wearing a smug, hey-it's-only-money look.

I always wondered what happened when the two of them went back inside to unwrap the rest of the gifts.

If you give someone a $50,000 luxury automobile and that person gives you, say, three pairs of socks and a couple of ties, that could cause a little friction in the marriage, don't you think?

One year, instead of a husband or wife getting a Lexus, the commercial showed a Dad giving a Lexus to his daughter for Christmas.

But the daughter didn't seem to lapse into that same oh-my-god! frenzy. She probably would have been happier with an iPod and some help with her grad school tuition.

In any event, these "December to Remember" commercials have run for 10 years now.

And they apparently resonate with well-heeled viewers, because Lexus sells more cars in December than any other month.

But things have changed a little, haven't they?

Here we are, lurching through the most troubled economy since the 1930s.

The stock market is a daily heart attack. Home values have tanked. Unemployment is skyrocketing. People with jobs are worried sick about holding onto them - even people with big jobs.

Think Lexus might tone it down a notch in these tough times?

Think management might get together with its ad team and say: "Maybe we should take a pass on the 'December to Remember' spots, since this could be the 'December to Throw Yourself Off a Bridge' for a lot of people."

Well, guess what?

Lexus did no such thing.

Instead, the new Christmas commercials are an even loftier tribute to unbridled consumerism, as well as one-upping the neighbors and turning them green with envy.

This time, the theme is, loosely: the best present ever.

In one, a little girl is pictured in her living room on Christmas morning with a pony as Dad reads the newspaper and Mom fiddles with the tree.

(I know, I know ... who lets a pony in the house? On a beautiful white carpet, no less. Hey, don't come down on me. I didn't write the commercial. I'm just trying to describe it for you.)

"Look, it's Dolly," the kid says, looking into the camera. "Don't you remember how excited you were? You yelled so loud the neighbors came over!"

"Remember how jealous Ann-Marie was?" the little brat continues. "Dolly was the bestest present ever. Nothing could be more ..."

At this, the little girl's face morphs into the rapturous features of a 35-ish blonde, who stares at the brand new ES 350 with the big red bow in the driveway and intones "... perfect."

Well, that certainly promotes the spirit of Christmas.

Get a pony to lord it over the other kids in the neighborhood. Get a Lexus to do the same thing when they're all grown up.

In the second commercial, a young boy is whizzing around the house Christmas morning on his new Big Wheel as the rest of the family open their presents.

This kid might be even more annoying than the little girl with the pony, at least voice-wise.

"Stop! What are you doing?" the kid whines at the camera. "You can't top the Big Wheel memory! This was the best present ever! Remember the freedom? The wind in your ears?

"Look at it!" the kid goes on. "Nothing could ever be this ..."

The same special-effects thing happens.

The kid's face transforms into that of a man who says: "... great."

Then we cut to a new RX 350 with a big bow sitting in the driveway as the man gives his wife a thank-you smooch.

I don't know - what's the message being sent by these two spots?

That spoiled, demanding kids become spoiled, demanding adults?

That warm childhood memories can be re-created with wildly expensive toys when you're a grown-up?

The way things are going, most of us would be thrilled to see a new Chevy Aveo in the driveway this Christmas. With or without the big red bow.

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