Lexus Promotes Hybrid as Edgy in ‘Dark Ride’ Effort

Today (Friday) Lexus debuts “Dark Ride,” a high-definition interactive film that promotes its new luxury compact hybrid, the CT 200h.

“Dark Ride” combines film and gaming, and creates a virtual test drive where the consumer guides the film’s driver through a series of adventures. Rather than touting fuel efficiency, Lexus is positioning the CT 200h as a car with edginess and attitude. The strategy is meant to target younger, more tech savvy consumers.

“This car is a new entry point, it lets us talk to a new consumer and that gives us permission to speak differently,” said Brian Bolain, national marketing strategy manager for Lexus. “It’s new hybrid marketing: This car is not just economical, it really is a lot of fun to drive.” 

Bolain said Lexus has never started such an early pre-launch effort for a vehicle before and he underscored the significance of how the CT 200h is not only is redefining the hybrid category, but also the image of the brand. “Within the next five years we’ll start to inherit more buyers within the Gen X and Gen Y group and while we’re not abandoning our current customers, we have to look at how the marketplace is changing and prepare for that,” said Bolain. “This is a milestone car for us.”

The 12-minute action film, being released online at, is part of Toyota’s initial launch phase of the CT 200h, which goes on sale next February. Since the vehicle doesn’t launch until next year, the virtual driving experience is an effort to build awareness and advocacy behind the model, Bolian said.

Visitors to the site can insert themselves into the film, sitting beside a character named Tony, played by actor Norman Reedus. Consumers navigate, while Tony drives the CT 200h from the Nevada desert to a Los Angeles safe house. Tony protects the car from various enemies who want to get their hands on the prototype. The film’s interactive features allow site visitors to insert their own likeness—via a webcam or a profile picture, record their own dialogue, control the point-of-view, and make decisions that alter the path of the film so new situations can be created. In addition to the “Dark Ride” site, a trailer for the interactive film is debuting in movie theaters nationwide.

“Dark Ride” is part of Lexus’ broader marketing theme, “The Darker Side of Green,” for the CT 200h. In June, Lexus will introduce a “Dark Card” VIP promotion targeting 30,000 local influencers and ambassadors for the car. Lexus and its hospitality, restaurant, and club partners will host events throughout the summer; cardholders will receive weekly updates on the CT200h’s launch.

Toyota’s luxury division tapped MDC Partners’ creative agency Skinny for the Dark Ride assignment. Skinny’s co-chief creative officers Jonas Hallberg and Liron Reznik came up with the idea for the interactive film. Lexus had previously worked with MDC shop Lime pr + promotions, which introduced the auto marketer to Skinny. In the current initiative, Lime is handling the events and the VIP promotion associated with the “Dark Ride” film.

Official EPA mileage numbers aren’t available yet, but Lexus said it expects the CT 200h, which will be the company’s fifth hybrid model, will lead its class in fuel economy.