Automotive advertising has always been an amalgamation of information and hype. Carmakers use commercials to inform the public of what makes their model different and new, while simultaneously promising an intangible goodness. Mid-century ads were less specific, reassuring prospective customers of a nondescript better way of life, but modern marketing has become much more focused. If ads are to be believed, buying a car today means purchasing more than just the hardware its comprised of — you’re buying an identity.
I’m reminded of a collection of car commercials from the 1960s that essentially vowed to nerds that, if they bought a specific car, they would be pursued endlessly by attractive women. It was a bold and extremely unsubtle way to kick off the new trend.
We’ve come a long way evolved slightly since then, but the concept of identity-focused advertising is more popular than ever. In fact, Subaru attributes a large portion of its own success to marketing that closely associates the brand with good values, family, lovable mutts, and the great outdoors.
Subaru has also abandoned broad-based advertising extravaganzas like the sporting events because that’s not its core demographic. But other automakers have followed suit, with more brands leaving the Super Bowl behind every year to seek a less blanketed approach.
“We don’t buy commercial time in the NFL or any other professional sport,” Alan Bethke, senior VP- of marketing at Subaru of America told Advertising Age in a recent interview. “Subaru is very clear of who we are … We don’t use a shotgun approach to just try to say ‘If you are a football fan you are going to like Subaru.’ We think we can be more sophisticated than that.”
That’s true. Subaru has always done things a little differently and eschewed the Super Bowl for the Puppy Bowl — partially because it knows a large portion of its patronage are dog-owners. It also has a very public partnership with the Center for Pet Safety and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — not to mention a nearly decade-long ad campaign that focus entirely on canines.
The television spots have ranged from hilarious antics of dogs hooning cars on a frozen lake to a tearjerking vignette where an owner uses his Impreza to facilitate his elderly dog’s final dream weekend. Obviously, pets don’t possess as much in the way of brand loyalty, but that’s not the point. The ads aren’t for the dogs, they’re for their owners.
It’s an extension of its long-running “Love” campaign, which makes a corporate promise to make a positive impact in the world while lovable running ads that focus on pets, people, and adventure. It’s incredibly effective at making you feel something, even though you still realize you’re watching an ad. There’s just something strangely earnest about it, which is a tall order when the brand identity you’re selling is literally love.
The strategy seems to have worked. Despite not having the most diverse lineup, Subaru of America has been on a hot-streak for years and sold 360,513 vehicles through July — an 8.7 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, the overall U.S. market declined by 2.9 percent as the automotive market experiences a long-anticipated downturn.
Subaru is sticking to its targeted advertising formula as it begins marketing the redesigned 2018 Crosstrek, which entered the subcompact crossover market in August. Two new heart-manipulating ads by Carmichael Lynch continue the long running “Love” campaign and feature an emotionally possessive dog and a clandestine cross-generational summit between grandfather and grandson.
If you clicked through all the links, I know you’ve been bombarded with a lot of Subaru ads but you should be paying attention because their unbridled, seemingly genuine, positivity are abnormal within the industry and really working out well for the brand.
“Subaru has just gotten it right on a number of levels,” says Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for AutoTrader. “Their product is right in the heart of what consumers are demanding right now, SUVs or cars that are SUV-like. They’ve also done a fabulous job of marketing those vehicles to resonate with an audience that doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional [path]. They are outdoorsy. They are dog lovers. So they are not necessarily into the NFL [and] sports and such.”