Lexus are no strangers to innovation. These are the people that created a real life hoverboard lest we forget. Yet the manner in which they decided to promote the new Lexus RX goes beyond simply being labelled “innovative”
You might have heard the announcement about Lexus’ partnership with Jude Law before Christmas and you no doubt would have seen the ace TV commercial by now.
As an extension of that commercial, Lexus invited 100 unwitting journalists to London for what was billed as "an immersive experience". I was one of those journalists. I was given no indication as to what to expect apart from the advice to dress ‘sharp and sophisticated’. Upon arriving at our hotel I was presented with a pocket watch. The hands weren't moving on it.
"I think the battery is dead on mine.” I said. The battery was dead in all of them as it turns out. Rather than tell me the time of the day, the watch was to be used to let me know what time my transport to the event would arrive at. From the hotel I'm taken to a mysterious location a short drive away. I arrive at what looks like the back entrance to an abandoned warehouse. Not at all the glamorous location you'd expect to host a Lexus event.
After a brief interlude of filling out waivers and handing over my smartphone (no flash photography allowed) I’m invited to go down the rabbit hole.
I have to climb through different rooms that exhibit the special features of the car such as the speakers inspired by legendary Woodstock sound engineer Mark Levinson.
Finally the Lexus RX is revealed to me and she is a beauty. I feel like I'm in a movie as the lights go up, the curtains are drawn back and the car appears amidst a fog of smoke. All that's missing is the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm asked to sit into the car and take part in a virtual reality experience using an Occulus Rift and headphones.
"Oh" I think. "So the immersive experience will be delivered through virtual reality? Not what I expected but I'll give it a go."
The Occulus and the headphones are expertly fitted and I'm taken in by the virtual image of the Life RX in front of me. There are some options for me to click by nodding. I go through the motions for about 30 seconds until suddenly the Occulus and headphones are pulled off of me.
"And that's a wrap!"
I've been hoodwinked. I'm suddenly on a film set. Two women are at my window touching up ‘my makeup' and telling me how good a job I just did. Suddenly ‘my assistant’ brushes them aside and pulls me out of the car and around to speak with ‘my director'. He's watched the playback on the monitor and is thrilled with ‘my performance.’ Two minutes previously I stepped into the Lexus RX as a journalist. I've just stepped out of it as a movie star.
My assistant guides me around the corner and sends me on a journey that takes in the trials and tribulations that go along with getting to a red carpet event. Along the way I meet a ‘celebrity chef’ who cooks me up some succulent pieces of steak on the spot. I’m given my voicemail messages which include one from Jude Law telling me he’s looking forward to catching up later that evening.
“Sure Jude. Can’t wait.” I think sarcastically. I’m then hurried outside and into a getaway car as several members of the paparazzi chase me around the corner all shouting my name.
Next up is a consultation with my tailor (real life celebrity designer Joshua Kane). We have a lovely chat in his studio discussing the beautiful bespoke suit he can't wait to make for me in time for the Oscars next month. While it’s lovely talking with Joshua, I’m soon whisked away again. I can’t just stand around talking to celebrity designers all day when I’ve got a red carpet event to go to after all.
It's when I arrive on the red carpet that things begin to get really interesting. There are of course photographers to pose for but more importantly l get to have some face time with 'my fans'. One of which declares that she’d like to “have my babies.” Good grief. Around the corner I go to conduct my TV interview. Halfway through discussing my performance and the merits of method acting I feel a hand on my shoulder.
"Max." I turn around to face Jude Law. The real one. Not a dopelganger. He tells me how great it was working with me and that he'll see me inside for the premiere. I don't think I managed to get a word out.
Off I go inside to the premiere and watch it all back. The TV commercial I've linked above along with footage of me walking the red carpet, taking a selfie with the fans and finally the moment I met Jude Law. It's quite an odd thing to see an actual video playback of yourself being starstruck. It's confirmed that indeed I didn't say a word to him.
Then that was it. My 45 minutes of fame were up. Lexus had literally picked me up and dropped me into a completely different world at the drop of a hat. I wanted to know how they did it.
While still very much on the fringes in Ireland, immersive theatre has become a phenomenon in the UK with Secret Cinema becoming the most well known form of it. For those unfamiliar with Secret Cinema, it is an immersive experience where the world of the film you’re going to see comes alive around you through the use of actors, sounds, smells and the location that the screening is being held in. Have a look at this video of the Secret Cinema screening of The Shawshank Redemption to get a better idea of it.
Lexus decided they wanted to create a truly bespoke event that would bring the idea of the Life RX alive. So they recruited London based talent agency The Department to make it happen. Creative Director, Hamish Jenkinson said that the key to pulling off an event like this is having the right team in place.
"In order to pull something like this off. It's about having an incredible team. That starts with the guys at Lexus. It was a bold, brave decision to go ahead and do something like this. So it really starts with them and then it's about the team that can execute it."
A key component of that team was Theatrical Director Simon Evans. He'd made a name for himself in immersive theatre with the aforementioned Secret Cinema show of The Shawshank Redemption. For Evans, it all comes down to the one moment where you can truly excite your audience.
"You needed to have a moment where you pulled the rug from under their feet and went 'Look what we've done!'. Lulling an audience into something and then saying we can change everything around you is a real rabbit hole moment. it's just a remarkable thing to be able to see the faces of people after that. The whole message of this advert is that we offer you a passport to the life you've dreamed of. When you take those goggles off, the looks on those people's faces proves that we've done exactly that."
For Jude Law, it was all about being part in an experience unlike any other.
"This is an experience where the audience is in the driving seat, and are taken into an incredibly magical world - having filmed the Life RX ad, being thrust into this world was something I really wanted to be a part of."