A Hippie Brand And Proud Of It, Subaru Finds Growth Through ‘Love’

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Take the Subaru ad 2016

Forget hipster marketing—Subaru is perceived as a hippie brand, and proud of it. The automotive subsidiary of Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries has made “love” a central pillar of its North America marketing and is doing it again: giving owners and potential buyers yet another emotional reason to buy its products.

In a US mini-campaign that explores the brand’s “commitment to safety and the continued trust in Subaru vehicles from parents everywhere,” Subaru has launched two TV ads that make the point in very different ways, combining pathos and humor for a compelling effect.

Subaru long has had to take an unconventional approach to marketing because it remains a challenger brand worldwide even as it has been near the front of the pack among relative sales growth in brands in the US.

Its lineup of all-wheel-drive SUVs and CUVs has risen with the current utility-vehicle craze by American consumers and the brand has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 17.6 percent in the US since 2008.

The brand also has stood out for its slightly hippieish marketing, emphasizing, for instance, how dog-lovers worship Subarus and a spot where a grandmother took family to Woodstock to hug the same tree she did in a literal nod to tree-huggers.

“We’ve been identified as granola-crunchers and tree-huggers, and people with lots of stickers on the backs of their vehicles, and it’s true,” Tom Doll, president and chief operating officer of Subaru of America, told brandchannel. “We’re proud of that. Why run away from that? [Brands] who are critical of that wish that they had what we do.”

Or, put another way, Doll said, “Do I need half the market” that might be put off ideologically by Subaru’s overt wooing of “progressives” and liberals? “Our customers kind of led us to this. The things we talk about internally, and externally through our advertising and marketing, are really a reflection of where we believe we want to make an impact on the general society. It’s important for all companies to be able to give back.”

In this case, Subaru is “giving back” by underscoring the outstanding safety record of its vehicles as well as its status as a trusted brand, illustrated by its being named 2016 Most Trusted Brand by the automotive information specialists at Kelley Blue Book.

“We are proud that Subaru continues to be the trusted vehicle of choice for so many families who recognize the importance of safety for our young drivers,” said Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing for Subaru of America, in a press release. “With these new spots, we are happy to reinforce the brand’s commitment to building and honoring this trust and keeping our drivers safe on the road.”

In the new ad “I’m Sorry,” a variety of teenagers are seen in the immediate moments after they’ve been in bad wrecks in their parents’ Subarus, though they’ve survived. “It wasn’t my fault,” they’re saying; “I don’t know what happened”; “Please don’t be mad”; “This car came out of nowhere”; “I wrecked the Subaru.”

But in their cell-phone calls to parents, the message from home is, “You’re OK; that’s all that matters.” And the implicit reason they’re safe is because they were driving the family Subaru.

The other commercial, “Take the Subaru,” is a funny send-up on the same point. Kids are shown taking all sorts of devices for play or “construction” purposes, ranging from a blow torch to a chain saw to a pair of barber shears to a sledgehammer, only to hear their parents say, “You’re not taking that/those.” In the extended version of the commercial, a teenage girl is told “You’re not taking him,” about her boyfriend waiting outside.

But in the end, when one of the kids asks informs his mom, “Mom, I’m taking the Subaru,” his reassured parent shouts down the stairs to the kitchen only, “Don’t be late.”

In addition to chiming a strong consistency with its overall brand message, the campaign also is an extension of safety-focused positioning that Subaru began in 2013 when it ran commercials showing totaled Subarus with the message, “They lived,” Ad Age noted.

Subaru recently also has been promoting its Eyesight Driver Assist technology that allows the car to stop itself before a head-on collision. Eyesight is noted in the spot, too.

And in another proof point that it’s a tree-hugging environmentalist too, its “Who We Are Is What We Leave Behind” campaign paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of Teddy Roosevelt formalizing America’s National Parks network:

In all its messaging, the brand’s longstanding tagline remains, “Love: It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”

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