With the nationwide debut of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, luxury car brand Lexus has teamed with Marvel for a look into the afro-futuristic world with the assistance of the brand’s first fully-electric vehicle, the Lexus RZ 450e.
The vehicle is the center of a new marketing campaign, An Electric Future, starring actress Danai Gurira in the role of General Okoye and her all-women warriors, the Dora Milaje. This is the third time Lexus and Marvel Studios have teamed up for collaboration.
The key component of the campaign is the 90-second spot, directed by Anthony Leonardi III, which sees General Okoye and the Dora Milaje traveling in the RZ 450e and engaging in a battle with pursuing enemies.
Speaking with The Source, Mia Phillips, Senior Manager, Advertising & Media, Lexus, detailed the Marvel and Lexus collaboration of the campaign, the electric future of the auto industry, and more.
THE SOURCE: I’m not going to ask you for any details, but I would like to know, have you seen Black Panther yet?
Mia Phillips: I have not. I haven’t seen the full thing. I’ve seen bits and pieces. I have two members of the team that was at the premiere. They have seen the whole thing, and they’re sworn to secrecy.
Disney puts you under the lock and key and safe deposit box and everything else in the world.
Yeah. It’s amazing. With the first Black Panther, and even with Eternals, because we just partnered with Marvel on The Eternals last year, we saw the entirety of the script. So I knew the movie backward and forwards. We had a really good chance to understand exactly how the brand would be represented. I now understand what it must be like to partner in a movie like The Avengers because Black Panther has become the Avengers of the Marvel franchise. It was the film that no one saw really coming. They knew it would be successful. They didn’t know how much or know that it would impact society overall. It was one of their largest-grossing films ever. And because of that, now it’s like impossible to touch the franchise. They don’t want you seeing anything [laughs]. And obviously, the unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman has really impacted them as well because they have an extra responsibility to make this film the best that it can be. So this has been a totally different experience.
Before we get any deeper into the business side, what is your plan for watching it? Is it something that you go with family, or are you going by yourself because you don’t want anybody to see you cry?
I’m going with my team. I don’t mind my team seeing me ugly cry. We cry together almost every day. Work pain [laughs]. We’re taking the afternoon off on the 10th, and we will all be going together to see it. And then I’ll turn around on the 11th and see it with family.
Alongside the rollout of this movie, we’re being introduced to the first fully Lexus electric vehicle. How long has this vehicle been in development?
The vehicle has been in development for some time. By the time we got a sense that this vehicle was in development, I would say we were probably still two or three years away from it actually coming to market. So it’s been in development for a while.
Within that, we have the Electric Future Campaign. How were this concept and campaign developed?
Our partner, Walton Isaacson, who is our agency for Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ audiences, came to the table with a plethora of ideas, and we were pleasantly surprised at the different takes on electricity. For the Lexus brand, I remember a year and a half ago talking to the chief engineer of the RZ, who is in Japan, and telling him we had this great opportunity with Marvel. We wanted to use his vehicle, and we needed like really highly confidential information that he typically doesn’t give out, so we had to give him the ins and outs. He was super excited about being able to showcase this vehicle in this way. He couldn’t think of a better way to get the first electric vehicle in front of consumers and gain awareness around it globally than the impact of Black Panther. So he was in, which was great. We knew that we were going to place Black Panther in our co-promotional activities. We wanted to place the vehicle in the film as well, but we couldn’t because, during the filming, we only had a shell of a vehicle.
When you think of Wakanda and Black Panther, you think of innovation and technology, the future, forward-thinking, elegance and power. The RZ 450e is our most technologically advanced vehicle ever, and that made it a natural fit.
We narrowed the creative ideas down to two or three, and Marvel really liked this one. Then for casting, we had our eyes on General Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, for a while. I mean, there is no bigger powerhouse in the film than her. Being able to work with her was such a treat. We were so glad when she actually said yes to the partnership because we had the script written, and she saw it was true it was to her character. The authenticity that she brings made this turn out really well. We couldn’t think of any better way to bring this vehicle to market than by partnering with Marvel Studios on Black Panther specifically to showcase our battery electric.
You are speaking as someone who has been immersed in the entire RZ experience. You mentioned the match of electricity and technology within both the car and Wakanda. There is also the power and aesthetic beauty of both. From your experience in examining the RZ, what do you find is the most interesting feature of this car?
It was a feature that the director, Anthony Leonardi III, of our ad pointed out, who also actually has been a part of Avengers: Endgame and our Eternals spot too. He’s no stranger to Marvel, and when he saw the car, he said, What are those wings? There are spoiler wings on the back of the car. And he took extra detail in our spot to go around the car from that wing perspective. And I’ll be honest with you, when he said that, I was laughing because the first time I saw the car in person and I said, now that’s different, but I like it. It is such a small thing, but it adds so much character to that vehicle.
We’re seeing both in New York and California that you won’t be able to purchase gas cars in 2035. With all of those changes happening, what steps are Lexus taking to differentiate itself in the auto market when it comes to electric vehicles?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Lexus sees electrification as a spectrum. I think that, in and of itself, is very different from other brands. We’re going all electric now, and I think what we have realized is that there are benefits to all Battery electric, and there are consumers who, if they look across the spectrum of electrification, are ready, they’re ready to jump all in on battery electric vehicles. They may be in the Midwest, where there really isn’t a ton of infrastructure, meaning there are not a lot of parking stations. They may be on the East coast and live in a brownstone and share a driveway where they don’t have the ability to go into a garage and plug in my vehicle. So we understand that the whole adoption of battery electricity is a spectrum right now. What Lexus is seeing the future as a spectrum of electricity for US electric is plugin hybrid, which to me is the best of all worlds because you can drive on only electricity, but you also have the confidence and assurance of having a gasoline engine when you need it to take the vehicle for long distances and not have to worry about finding charging stations.
We will continue to provide right now, with RZ hitting the lots in early 2023, an option of all three, whichever fits your lifestyle best, and we want to make sure that that is something that continues. We’ll continue to evolve. But if you haven’t gone on lexus.com lately, I highly suggest you do and look at our electrified sport concept because that takes you a step beyond RZ, which is our first foray into electrification. But you will see that the folks at Lexus have not stopped there and that the future of electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles is a very exciting future for us.
I’m sure that within any partnership, Marvel has ideas that they want to convey, and so does Lexus, how is that meeting of minds to correlate the best for entities?
What we find important about the partnership with Marvel is they have a proven track record of successful and authentic engagement with young, diverse audiences through diverse content. That’s important to us. I think it’s important to them. While we can engage and do engage with audiences through traditional advertising means like our broadcast ads and digital banners and videos and social content, there are other ways that we think allow us to tap into the culture a bit more and to greater engage with consumers so that they build a true affinity and love for the brand. Maybe people who were not Marvel fans before are fans of Lexus and are saying, “Hey, what’s Lexus doing?” and being a fan of Lexus will go see the movie, and of course, the other way around. Certainly, for us, they have such a huge following, 28 million followers on IG, and we’re able to tap into those folks who may have never thought about Lexus or experienced Lexus in any way now have the ability to see the brand in a different light because they’re Marvel fans.
You mentioned the power of the characters of Black Panther. With you being such an integral piece to this campaign and developing the partnership as a woman, how does it feel to see this product aligned with the force of the Dora Milaje?
It’s amazing. I was actually on the set of the commercial, and when they came with their full makeup on and their uniforms, I was like, Whoa. The power and elegance and athleticism that they have and the force, right? I mean, they’re just amazing. They’re amazing onscreen, certainly in their characters, but even when they’re not just characters on a screen and they’re preparing for their advertising debut, they are a force to be reckoned with. It was such a pleasure to see them in our vehicle. I think for a lot of reasons, when you look at the adoption of battery electric vehicles, it is a very highly male segment of the automotive industry. There are lots of segments where women outnumber men in terms of purchases, but battery electricity is one of the segments where men significantly outnumber women. So to show three powerful black women in an electric vehicle was a real treat for me.