When I first wrote this article in 2006, I played with the titles of “Surprise Honey, I Decided to Postpone Our Retirement” and the much more boring “I Still Don’t Like Lexus’ Holiday Commercials.” I finally settled on, “Surprise Honey, I Added $60,000 to our Debt!” Instead of all that, I went with the obvious this time.
I’m bringing this article back up because Saturday Night Live recently did a commercial around the same theme. It’s hilarious! Give it a watch:
There’s a reason why my article is a bunch of text on a page and SNL’s is a comedic masterpiece that has the internet buzzing. They covered all my feelings and added some extra crazy for good measure.
In 2006, I thought that Lexus would get canceled due to a deluge of bad optics of a commercial campaign suggesting that giving a Lexus for Christmas is a good surprise. Maybe cancel culture wasn’t a thing then. I had also assumed that they either didn’t test market their commercial or that I was in the vocal minority. I can’t say which is more correct. Since they still have the campaign, it has to be working for them. However, there are mainstream parodies about how idiotic the concept is. Honda roasted them badly with this one:
Honda Commercial – "Car Gift" from Thought Division on Vimeo.
I hadn’t realized that Lexus’ December to Remember campaign started back in 1999. I wasn’t blogging about how to FIRE back then, so I may have just given it the stink eye and moved on. In any case, the 2006 commercial started off with the husband calling his wife and lying to her about being stuck at work. If you know you are going to be controversial, I guess a white lie to your wife isn’t too bad, but you’d think they could come up with something better. The wife leaves the house to pick up their kid at sports practice and there’s a new Lexus with a bow waiting in the driveway.
In 2006, I imagined the reaction my wife would give if I did something like that. I would surely be in the dog house. Guess what, in 2020 it’s still the same! It might even be worse of a dog house now with responsibilities like our two kids.
There are normal Christmas gifts and there’s giving one that’s 50% more than what the average household earns in a year. The only way I could ever get away with a Lexus for a gift is if I also announced that I made a million dollars earlier in the day. Since that million dollars would be around $600,000 after taxes, I might be able to get away with using 10% of it for an extravagant toy. However, even that is stretching it. My wife would much rather quit her job and take at least a year trying to decide what to do for a second act.
Is there a circumstance where you would consider a $60,000 purchase without discussing it with your significant other? Let me know in the comments below?
Further Reading: Annual Rant: Cars are NOT Gifts. She alerted me to the awesome Honda commercial mentioned above.
P.S. I originally linked to a Lexus’ Flash page at: http://www.lexus.com/promo/flash/dse/DSE_LandingPage.swf so you can watch the commercial itself. Obviously, Lexus doesn’t still have that page up. Back then, Google had just bought a company called YouTube the month before. I remember laughing at their terrible decision to pay so much money for a website that didn’t make any money and cost so much money in bandwidth to run.
Originally Published 11/27/2006 – (Image Source)
I’ve noticed these commercials for the last couple of years. I think it’s a clever piece of marketing and branding, and I’ve already seen other brands trying to imitate Lexus. I think the commercial is simply effective brand management; very few people will actually buy a car for their SO unless they are fabulously wealthy or fabulously stupid.
Lexus can afford to speak to the 1 in 10,000 because the other 9,999 wouldn’t buy that brand anyway, they’d buy Toyota. (Both brands are the same company.)
I thought of it as very interesting myself. The thing is that I could afford a Lexus if I really wanted to. I could even consider a used Lexus. There are a lot of young people who might not be able to afford a Lexus now, but will someday. So they target the very few people fabulously wealthy or fabulously stupid people and give up on a bigger audience – the people who are on the edge of financially being able to buy it.
The other factor to consider is the next generation of young people. Someday they’ll be in the position to be in the potential Lexus owner demographic, but if they are like me (and quite a few people I’ve talked to), they will also boycott Lexus because of this. So while they may be Toyota people today, they may have become Lexus people tomorrow.
Maybe they are getting what they want with their brand management. I’m sure they have research groups to give them feedback on the campaigns before they get out. Still, I think it has a lot of room to backfire on them.
The Travelin' Man says
While I have not seen the Lexus commercials, one of my best friends last Christmas bought his wife a car for Christmas. She hit the ceiling. He was trying to do something nice for her – and they had just come into some money. I was with him as he agonized over the decision, and pretty much just went for it with both feet in the water. These folks have been married for well over 10 years, have some financial ground on which to stand, and she still went nuts.
You had better be very secure in your relationship before doing this type of gifting.
It’s also not a good idea to buy a car for someone because of legal liability and insurance reasons. But you can take someone to a dealership and let them pick out the car and then you’ll pay for it.
As to the target audience – building up a luxury brand is not only about people who can afford it at the moment, but the “aspirational” buyers who equate Lexus with luxury and prestige and would want to purchase the brand when they are able to. Some people might be turned off, but I’m sure they’ve done focus groups and have gotten favorable response. I think BMW, Mercedes, and Jaguar have also done similar commercials. Personally, I’m not offended – I think it’s kind of cute. :)
But I won’t be getting a Lexus for a LONG while!
Adventures In Money Making says
lexus has succeeded in branding through that ad!
the point of such an ad to make people remember it, even if they hate the ad.
remember “head-on” and that weird singing-hamster-rodent-hybrid in Quiznos ads?
its not failure if people remember the brand!!!!
NO WAY! My husband and I are so tight on our budget that we discuss any expenditure over $20! It might seem a little overboard, but I think each couple has a different limit. $60,000 would probably give me cardiac arrest at the ripe old age of 27.
What about presents? We don’t even get each other presents because our money is just that – “our money,” and it would seem strange to buy ourselves presents. We’re pretty serious about our budget – go hard, or go home!!! (to a home that’s paid for!!!)
HAHAHAHAHA! Every time that commercial comes on, my husband looks at me and says, “You’d kill me if I ever bought a car without you!” (He’s right.)
As for when I would consider a $60,000 purchase w/o discussing it with my husband, or he with me, would be a situation much like you described: We won an incredible amount of $$ in a lottery or something such that $60,000 is an insignificant amount of the whole amount.
How about, though, if you and wife had discussed making an investment of $60,000 in some property. Say you accompanied a friend to a Real Estate auction and a property just like what you and wife had discussed came up for auction. You are confident that this would be a good investment. Would you go ahead and make the $60k commitment without consulting your spouse?
Early Retirement Extreme says
Well I usually don’t discuss investment choices with DW even of that order – granted I wouldn’t blow $60k on OTM call options ;P If I got a $60k consumable though, she would probably have me put in the mental ward. And if she put us 60k down without asking me, I would consider it far worse than cheating.
Lazy Man says
Interesting question Samantha. I think I would bring my wife to any auction or at least get permission beforehand, so that it wouldn’t be a surprise.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t an investment. This is essentially a toy.
Mrs. Micah says
@ ERE — it is essentially a form of cheating, actually. Betraying the commitments of your relationship. If those commitments include consulting with each other about big purchases or not putting yourselves in more debt or saving for retirement together…
Lazy, that was an awesome title! :) I’d probably cry instead of blowing a gasket. Bawling pathetic tears like I was being dumped for a younger woman. Gosh. Even thinking about it makes me feel sad. It’d be a feeling of betrayal and hopelessness—like we’ll never get out of debt and there’s nothing I can do because I’m married to a moron.
Fortunately, I’m married to a very kind and loving man who is not a moron and also thinks that those commercials (along with every jewelry commercial ever) are dumb/insidious.
The only good holiday car commercial is for some contest you can win to get a free car for you and someone else. I wouldn’t be as pissed if we did one of those. Then we’d sell the new cars and buy practical ones. :D
Mrs. Micah says
Something else I just thought of…I know a woman whose fiance bought her a flat screen tv for her birthday.
…………….using her credit card.
Yeah. Not cool. There’s a couple other reasons why I think she should dump him. He seems to be learning, though, so this may not be a complete catastrophic relationship.
Oh I love that commercial it’s so sweet! NOT
Lazy Man- you have to realize when you are talking to an audience of personal finance junkies, of course our answer will be NO
But for as the average out of touch middle class person, buying a Lexus is a status symbol.
It’s like saying honey “WE MADE IT”. We are officially successful!!!
Buy now, worry about debt later,
Part II to that commercial is him telling his son we don’t having money for you to go to college, but you can have this paid for Lexus ! LOL
Lazy Man says
I realize my audience is not the norm. However, I can’t imagine that flying with any of my friend’s who are not personal finance junkies.
Think Ryuko says
I do surprise my wife with jewelry every now and then – but it’s usually something I picked up at a Black Friday frenzy sale (i.e., 1/4 regular price or less). The idea of surprising my wife with a $5k+ “forever diamond” or whatever, geez. I don’t make that kind of money. Not even to mention a Lexus — she’d probably divorce me!
Granted, they do have Lexuses in the $40k and lower $30k range – they’re not all $60k, and I’ll guess that these lesser expensive ones sell much better. After all, having ANY kind of Lexus is a huge status symbol. And don’t forget – it IS a luxury car, so they’re marketing to the top 10% who can actually afford these things. So…. yeah you’re looking at that tier of America who can actually afford to make these payments on their own salary without affecting their other bills. (only a complete asshole like that mentioned above would consider using the giftee’s income to help pay for said gift!)
OK, let me qualify that a little more… Hell, no! ;)
My wife and I are good with our expenses and don’t have any hard limits, but we generally talk about anything more than $100. There are exceptions, I’m sure, but there is no way I would do that!
I think the idea of buying a $60k car for a holiday present is a brilliant idea… for the car company marketers :) Complete with the huge red bow.
In addition, I believe the commercial has an implication that the man can do this because he earns all the money and thus can do whatever he wants with it. The stay-at-home-soccer-mom just sits back and says “oh my the breadwinner is so generous!” Yawn.
Why is the assumption here that people can’t afford a 60k car? The parking lot at my office is full of BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus, and some really high end cars like Bentley and Ferrari and they’re driven by executives who earn 500k and up. Is spending 10% of your income on a car that unreasonable? I think the target audience for these commercials are the execs. Toyota Camry’s and Honda Civics are the commercials for the middle class.
By the standards here, people making 60k should spend no more than 6k for a car and that’s nearly impossible these days.
My Dollar Plan says
I asked for a car for my birthday a couple years ago and got a Mercedes. Of course it’s not like I didn’t know about it though!
Lazy Man says
Sam, if you make 500K and up, you probably already have a 60k car. I also don’t think the “soccer mom” portrayed in the commercial should be so against picking up the kid at practice if the dad is “staying at the office late” to make the 500k. In short, they are portrayed as an average couple in the commercial.
Anything over a hundred bucks or so merits at least a courtesy heads up at our house.
That said, I’d buy a year or two of a great college education for my kids long before a Lexus.
The commercial makes it tough to be a common middle class man, just as the diamond commercials do. Sam missed the point of your question. It wasn’t can you afford it? It was would you do it without your wife’s knowledge? Any sane man in a good marriage would say NO.
In all fairness, you’re making all kinds of assumptions from a 30 second commercial. Maybe they *had* talked about it. Maybe she’d been hinting that she wanted the car, they’d been discussing it and could afford it, but the actual purchase was a surprise?
And maybe, just maybe, they could even afford it.
I’ve surprised my wife with plenty of $100 purchases, and even $500 purchases. Heck, I surprised her with an engagement ring that cost a couple thousand dollars. For some people that would be too extravagant, but they fit well within our budget. But clearly there are people for whom a Lexus is well within reach.
I spent $20k on a watch without telling my wife about it. was I naughty?
‘Sam, if you make 500K and up, you probably already have a 60k car. I also don’t think the “soccer mom” portrayed in the commercial should be so against picking up the kid at practice if the dad is “staying at the office late” to make the 500k. In short, they are portrayed as an average couple in the commercial.’
baloney. They are not portrayed as an average couple, unless the ‘average couple’ lives in a 5000 sq. ft. house with a secluded drive and professionally trimmed hedges.
And as the spouse of a high-earner, I can testify that even if your spouse makes a mid 6-figure income, you still want them to do their fair share of the housework.
# Dantheman55 responded:
“The commercial makes it tough to be a common middle class man, just as the diamond commercials do. Sam missed the point of your question. It wasn’t can you afford it? It was would you do it without your wife’s knowledge? Any sane man in a good marriage would say NO.”
Do you think Donald Trump clears it with his wife before he buys her a car? What about Bill Gates? if the answer is no, they can do whatever they want then where does the line get drawn? Does a person who makes 100 million a year need to get permission to spend 60k? What about someone who makes 10 million/year? What about 1 million/year?
Lazy Man says
Sam, I’m not so sure that Lexus is putting the commercial on TV to get Trump’s or Gates’ attention. Someone making 1M a year probably drives an even better car than a Lexus.
I’d draw the line at around 500K a year. As I previously mentioned, it doesn’t look like they are a 500K family. The commercial shows them as average couple, no hint of them being in the top 1% of earners.
Considering that California is a community property state and encumbrances are also “community” if community assets are relied upon to pay/secure the debt, e.g., wages or salary, then my husband would be in deep trouble if he pulled such a stunt. What a ridiculous commercial (I haven’t actually seen it.)
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i’m not sure what the usefulness of dissecting the commercial. Really, any commercial is going to portray a fantasy reality. Commercials are designed to illicit aspirational wants. These “luxury” commercials are designed to target those in the “aspirational” class, who have just enough extra income to afford a $60k car. They key for all of us is to disassociate a marketer’s idea of what we should want versus our real wants and needs. It doesn’t matter how much you make, if you can afford a $60k car and want to spend $60k on a car for whatever reason, so be it.
I guess I’m the lone voice of dissent here. Hubby and I put down about 60% on the last car we bought and hope to be able to pay cash for the next one. Therefore, if we were already in the market for a new car and he just came home with one, I wouldn’t necessarily be upset, provided the car he got was something that we’d already agreed upon. That would just mean he saved me the trouble of finding a car (we buy pre-owned) and haggling with the dealer.
Unfortunately, most people I know would be THRILLED if their spouses came home with a surprise Lexus. Women and men alike would likely view it as an extremelly generous and meaningful gift. On top of that they would LOVE the opportunity to brag about their spouses’ generosity (and simultaneously about their financial successes) to their friends.
Of course that all assumes that the couple make upwards of $150,000 a year. But many couples do, and many more don’t know/care much about what financial prudence would dictate. So no, I don’t think it’s completely outrageous, especially as materialistic consumption-promoting commercials go.
In fact, if I had all my financial ducks in a row and got a $200,000 bonus, I might consider such a purchase for my spouse under certain circumstances (like that I knew he wanted that exact car, and he hadn’t had a new car in years). And I certainly wouldn’t be mad if my high-earning spouse bought me a car–assuming again that our financial situation was stellar.
Blowing 60K on a car without consulting with the Mrs. would result in me having at least one or two new ones ripped in me within 30 secs.
Yeah, I always thought these ads were ridiculous, it’s one thing to get jewelry without consulting… but a CAR!?!?!?! But I suppose it works because they always run those ads…
my wife and I are on a strict budget and after seeing the lexus commercial together, she told me that she wants me to surprise her with a car for christmas or her birthday some year, and I’m excited about it, and we’ll be paying cash.
we hope to make 250K this year and she currently drives a $1K (yes, that’s one thousand dollars)1996 ford escort. she’ll deserve more than whatever car I surprise her with, but it’ll probably be a $20K used Honda Pilot, not a $60K Lexus.
Anyone who buys new is a chump anyways. Buy a 3-year old used.
Joseph Sangl says
Lexus knows that most Americans spend money with a short-term mindset. They might “know” that spending the money on a car that will drop in value like a rock is a bad idea, but they don’t have to pay the consequences of the decision in a massive way for years to come. They can enjoy the luxurious car immediately.
I have always laughed at these commercials when the announcer dude says “make this a December to remember …”
I can promise you it WOULD be a December to remember if I bought this stupid car without my bride’s input.
I have no problem with Lexus or owning a Lexus. I have a problem with the perceived deception between spouses.
I don’t like the premise behind the commercial either and mere mortals could not go out and buy the car without repercussions. But the one couple I know of where someone got a car for xmas, the car purchase was planned, just not for a specific day. So when I watch that commercial I kinda thought they had talked about it and were going to buy a luxury sedan :)
I didn’t realise the car was fully optioned. From the ads it looks like an RX to me, which start at 37K. Now, apart from that, yes, my wife would kill me too.
I suppose it is for all of those yuppie suburbanites who have money to burn. It caters to rich people, the poor schmucks that work for a living cannot afford the car. The commercial makes me hate Lexus.
Mercedes and even Cadillac have similar commercials.
My wife has a Lexux, and I took it in for the 30k mile tune-up. It was $640!!! Crazy!
Mrs. Accountability says
It’s 2009 and they’re still showing that commercial. Or maybe a new version. Or some car company is showing something similar to the one you mention. I told my hubby last night what a mess of a present that would be! Neither of us believe in buying brand new cars as it is. If one of us ever did that we’d probably have him or her committed. ;-)
Lazy Man says
Yep I’ve noticed that.
I hate this commercial. It’s bad enough the Giants are losing only to be interrupted by this annoying commercial with a tune that just grates on my nerves. Even if I had money for a Lexus I would say Lex-us buy another car. In this economy does anyone except the ‘one percent’ lol have money for this unless they got into 60,000 dollars in debt.? If my spouse did this, he would be living in the dam Lexus.
Since everyone in the commercial is living in a million dollar house, and wearing 200 dollar shoes, just assume the commercial is for people who can afford it. i.e. not you.
If you were asking 250K+ a year, this would be fine. Also, wouldn’t it be 60K – the cost of another car that you should talk about?
Lazy Man says
Of course the commercial isn’t for the average person, but do you know how many times it was played during football games at Thanksgiving? It had to be upwards of 30 times. You know who watches football at Thanksgiving – the people who aren’t living in a million dollar house and wearing $200 shoes.
Additionally, this alienates about what 99.99% (maybe a few more 9’s) of America. We are close to being able to buy a $60K car (if we wanted to, but we’ll probably invest it in better ways – even Buffet drives a clunker for his billions), and I’d go for any other car company than this one.
There are two elements to this question.
First, how much jointly-owned money can you spend without consulting with your partner. That number is different for every partnership. I have personally often used $100 as that number.
Secondly, I would be pretty angry at my partner for buying me a car that I didn't get to choose or test drive. I would find that incredibly presumptuous.
Well, considering my gift to my wife for the birth of our third child was a new Mercedes convertible, (without getting rid of either of our other cars) I guess most of you must need better jobs…..
Lazy Man says
Actually, my goal (which I've succeeded in years ago) was to not need a job at all.
Impersonal Finances says
SNL stole your bit! That was hilarious.
And Mitch–you do you brother!
I suspect that another purpose to these ads are to solidify the Lexus position as a luxury brand. The thinking may go “yeah, I’d never buy one as a gift for someone–that would be crazy!–but I can treat myself” while ignoring the crazy financial decision.
A few years ago one my “friends” (I use the term loosely) bought a new Mustang for his wife as a present. It had a manual transmission and she didn’t drive manual. I don’t know if she ever drove it, and I suspect that it might have been more for his ego and enjoyment. Needless to say, they’re not together any more.
Lazy Man says
Yes, it definitely works to position Lexus as a luxury brand.
It’s too bad you aren’t close with this “friend” because I would love to hear more about what his thought process was on that one.