I’m Too Sporty for My Freeway

 

NEW YORK TIMES • MARCIA BIEDERMAN

THE ideal spot for a billboard advertising a new car is along a high-traffic road where lots of drivers poking along in grille-to-tailgate traffic have time to read it. Yet those same clogged thoroughfares would be the worst possible places to savor the performance features of a sporty sedan.

Toyota’s Lexus division recently mind-melded this contradiction in an outdoor advertising campaign that declares in supersize lettering that the 2011 Lexus IS is “overqualified for the B.Q.E.,” as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is known locally.

That was just in New York. On Detroit billboards, the same Lexus model was “overqualified for I-94.” On the Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, it was “overqualified for I-35.” In Washington, it was too good for the Beltway.

The list went on for 26 highways in top Lexus markets around the country, where for a five-week period that ended this month, 65 digital and conventional billboards maligned local highways and lauded the IS model in a single stroke.

While sitting in traffic in the Bay Area, Randy Sloan of Oakland, Calif., spied a billboard declaring that the new Lexus model was “overqualified for the 580.”

“It struck me as funny,” Mr. Sloan said.

Still, he couldn’t help noticing that the slogan couldn’t have been written by a local. Northern Californians, Mr. Sloan said, refer to the highway as simply “580,” without the definite article.

Mr. Sloan went so far as to post an article about the grammatical faux pas on the Facebook page of Match Vineyards, the St. Helena, Calif., business that he co-owns. “Down south, they may drive on ‘the 10,’” he wrote, referring to Southern California, “but we never drive on ‘the 580.’”

The billboard campaign also drew notice on Twitter, where Poornima of Palo Alto, Calif, posted this: “Luv the new Lexus billboard ‘overqualified for the 101.’” But she pondered a possible deeper message: Should she “take 280” instead?

Taking a more sardonic tone on Twitter, John Golden, whose bio placed him at U.C.L.A., reported seeing the message “overqualfied for the 405,” and added, “Good to know the car can idle in standstill traffic really well.”

That was precisely the point of the campaign, said Allison Takahashi, a spokeswoman for Lexus.

“With its available F Sport-tuned suspension and race-inspired paddle shifters, the IS allows for incredible handling,” she wrote in an e-mail, adding, “In the IS, the only thing that may limit your exhilarating drive is the road you are on.”

Ms. Takahashi said that the customized billboards were “rather unusual,” but that the company thought a sign promoting “precision performance” should be aimed precisely to consumers.

Even beyond California, article usage was apparently more of a challenge for Lexus than tuning the car’s suspension.

The company provided a list of slogans used around the country, showing that billboards had mentioned “I-95” in Philadelphia, but “the I-95” near the Lincoln Tunnel in North Bergen, N.J.

But then, who in New Jersey wouldn’t just call it “the Turnpike”?

 
John Mock