Lexus – Truth in Advertising?

I have pondered before – and sometimes here, in public – if I’m from a different planet. Many others have made comments that might cause me to thing that they think I am too!

So I am always reassured to find others who question the ‘truth in advertising’ in similar ways as I do. If you have read much of my blog, you will know that I’m a passionate naval history buff and subscribe to an email group about the same. Actually, they draw the boundaries a little differently ‘Two topics: the works of Patrick O’Brian and everything else’.

The list is packed with interesting people who have a range of backgrounds and expertise (they can sometimes be a little intimidating, not for nothing are they known as the “All Knowing List”) but who are also amusing, fun, erudite and inspiring.

One who contributes a great deal is Gary W Sims, a California engineer and desert dweller with a background in – amongst other things – developing the GPS system. I’m going to quote – with his permission – his email.

But before I do, my point: Advertisers are trying to get us to feel good about something. In order to do so, they must put all aspects of their message – and their Brand – together so that they do NOT cause the type of dissonance that Gary experienced watching the ad.

Sounds easy. It’s not!

You do not have to be an engineer, or as smart as Gary – or both as is Gary – to get the feeling that something “Ain’t right”. That’s enough to dissuade many buyers – or at least create an – albeit small – niggle and negative perception.

If you would like to see the debate that the post engendered, just Google some of the text below.
Read on:

“The purpose of a television commercial is to grab your eye, and often they explicitly do *not* want you listening, since they must by law say distracting things better left to very fine print. Like ”use of this product may cause parts to fall off some people.“

The only obligatory statements I know of in automobile ads are those ”professional driver on closed course“ notices, which are always reassuring after they show the car leaping off a roof or some such thing. (We might have thought just anybody could do that.) But sometimes the fine print or sotto voce comments are just plain confusing. Case in point:

A current Lexus commercial shows a helicopter dropping a Lexus coupe. This is definitely a thirty-second show I would enjoy far more if I were not such an obsessive about detail. As the car begins to fall toward a runway with a target painted on it, another coupe begins to accelerate down the runway.
They are converging as this script is read:

”Gravity will propel this Lexus IS over 4,000 feet in a matter of seconds.“ [camera shifts to car on ground]

”*This* Lexus IS will attempt to cover the same distance even faster.“

[car on ground passes target just before the falling car impacts.]

”So much for gravity.“

First time I saw this, I started to do the arithmetic every engineer among us just began. How long would it take that Lexus to fall 4,000 feet?
Muttering about terminal velocity estimates and so forth. Oh, no matter, I realized about one premise into the calculation. Can’t happen that way because ordinary street cars are limited to about nine tenths the force of gravity in any axis because of tire adhesion. Call it 29 fps gained per second as compared to 32 for a falling object. And that is when cornering a sports car, or stopping a car with excellent brakes. You can cheat and bounce off walls to generate higher acceleration, but that’s a technique with limited utility. Or strap on JATO units like the Mythbusters did.

Only the most powerful cars approach that 0.9g in the forward direction and then only for a few tens of feet. Current verrry fast street cars can only sustain about 24 fps2 in the forward direction. Cars that cost about like a house. A big fancy house. Top Ferraris, Bugatti Veyrons and the like.

No, I realized quickly that it takes a top-of-the-line race car to generate the sustained acceleration that falling car is experiencing. And I do mean ‘top’. Something like a Formula One car, and it cannot sustain that rate for 4000 feet. So a Lexus definitely cannot do what is shown in that commercial if they ”cover the same distance“ as the script says. ”Ehhh, so what.“ Went back to book.

Commercial came on again. Watched for disclaimers or explanation:

”Based on horizontal drop. Aerial sequence simulated.“

Oh. They… No, they… Huh? There’s the challenge for our group. What the Devil does this mean?

Well, no. Obviously, it means nothing, since things cannot fall horizontally. That’s one way of defining ‘horizontal’ for all love. (e.g. A ball will not begin rolling if placed on a horizontal surface.) But we’ll assume they thought it meant something when they wrote it.

The challenge I offer is to figure out what that ad agency *thinks* they were saying. So the non-geeks or novice geeks can enjoy the game, let me donate a couple of techie hints. [I might add that any non-techie interpretations are far more likely to be right than anything we geeks will come up with living under the constraint of knowing physics.<g>]

So, you may do better ignoring these tidbits of reality, but:

1. Traveling 4000 feet ”in seconds“ permits us to assume an average speed much slower than objects fall. It hints at ten seconds of course, but 59 seconds is semantically acceptable as ”in seconds“ just as well. (That’s good, because the falling car — neglecting air drag — would reach about 350 mph and only take 16 seconds to cover that 4000 feet.)

2. 4,000 feet in 59 seconds is 89 seconds to cover a nautical mile [just slipped that in for the POBishness of it] or about 46 mph. Call it 75 kph since I don’t care to find my calculator. Big deal. We have sailboats that go that fast.

3. To cover that distance from a standing start is nearly as trivial. Suppose that Lexus accelerated like the Old Man in a Hat… uh, older man who always seems to be in front of me at freeway on ramps when the traffic we must merge with is going 85 mph. Call it a nice gentle 4 fps that won’t spill his Geritol. (As an aside, this rate takes 22 seconds to reach 60 mph, which the OMH ahead of me rarely does by the end of the on ramp. This is like parallel parking in reverse at 25 mph when you try to merge at that speed. At least at the speed of traffic in the ‘slow’ lane of our freeways.) In fact, let’s not scare the OMH with that frantic rush. Let’s call it 3.2 fps or one tenth the acceleration of gravity. Unless I just miskeyed my calculator [which I gave up and fetched] it still will take only 50 seconds to cover that 4,000 feet. The final velocity would be about 110 mph, but that’s within the reach of nearly anything on the road today. Even a slightly refurbished Yugo. Certainly with the ”professional driver on a closed course“ of commercials.

So I return to my challenge: what the Devil *are* they trying to say? Seems unlikely the ad agency meant to brag that the new Lexus IS 350 will keep up with an aged Yugo.”

{advertising, Brand, Product}

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