Subaru's Raft Of New Ads Targets Yet Ties Together Brand Image

Subaru has launched a raft of new TV ads to promote the company's lineup of 2008 vehicles.

Although creatively and thematically different for each vehicle, the new print and TV ads are intended to further the company's efforts this year to promote the new lineup while driving home a Subaru identity around adventure, fun and all-wheel drive: Each of the ads ends with an overarching Subaru message that each vehicle is ready for something different.

The company's challenge in terms of brand-building may be a strength in marketing strategy, say analysts, who note that the company has adhered to a modus operandi of targeting defined niches. The company has historically pitched cars like the WRX Impreza to younger consumers, who are fans of compact import cars that can be modified and personalized. Meanwhile, the company pitches wagons like Forrester and Outback (for which the company has in the past signed spokespeople like Paul Hogan and Lance Armstrong), to people about as likely to attend a Hot Import Nights show as a 20-something car tuner is to learn bird calls.

The effort--via DDB New York, Subaru's AOR since 2004--ties the brand together with a fun, freedom, adventure, confidence and control ethos. Ads, some of which started in June, focus on the 2008 versions of the Tribeca crossover SUV, the Impreza four- and five-door, the Outback sport-utility wagon and the Legacy sport sedan.

The newest of the ads, launching this week, for Impreza, take the unusual tack of referencing the print ads from the same campaign. They use the tag-line: "It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru." They all tout Subaru's all-wheel drive.

The new TV spot, "Peel Out," shows a man and woman who leap out of the actual Subaru print ads in which they appear, along with the Impreza car. They become 3D, jump into the car and with rock music playing, and drive off of the office desk, in and out of other magazines. The effort supports the theme line "Ready to Move."

The new spot for Tribeca, whose second-generation version has received a redesign of the exterior and a larger wheelbase, has a couple on a test drive with the guy listening to his wife talk about features like DVD, back-up camera, third-row seating and the like. The guy says, "I love it when you talk car." That ad says the Tribeca is "Ready for more."

Finally, the new spot for the Outback wagon, which is "Ready for adventure," has different animals in the wild chirping, roaring and howling the name "Ricky," who turns out to be the guy in an Outback "answering the call of the wild."

The ad for Legacy touts the company's 15 years in off-road rally-racing. The new television spots have launched on cable and broadcast networks including TNT, The History Channel, Discovery Channel, FX, TLC, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, The Weather Channel, ESPN, E!, Food Network, HGTV, National Geographic, ABC, NBC, and CBS, among others. They are also at subaru.com.

Mark Weintraub, management supervisor for DDB, New York, says even though the target demographic is different for each vehicle--Impreza skewing younger, Outback and Forester to families--the ads are also similar in tone. "There's a similar sense of humor, of intelligence."

The Cherry Hill, N.J.-based company in May launched its first corporate advertising salvo using the "It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru" tagline, introduced last year. Some of the ads promoted the company's Indiana plant as environmentally friendly and featured a scraggly-bearded guy in the woods around the plant talking up the woods as much as the plant.

Todd Turner, president of Car Concepts, Los Angeles, says Subaru has stayed profitable in the U.S. market by avoiding a head-on collision with mass-market brands. "In a way they are the ultimate niche marketer," he says. "Each vehicle is designed and marketed to a specific group. Because they don't have the budget of, say, Toyota, they have to be a lot more creative in how they reach those consumers, and they have done a great job in doing that with advertising and sponsorship programs."

The company this year has been promoting its Impreza WRX cars via a relationship with the ESPN X Games around rally racing. Weintraub says the company ran ads for Legacy GT and Impreza WRX cars--about Subaru's history in rally racing--during ESPN and ESPN 2 coverage of the X Games.

Turner points out that Subaru is also the only brand that has consistently marketed to gay consumers. "That is very unique. Others have done that, but Subaru maintains this pattern."

The company has used tennis star Martina Navratilova, who is a lesbian, as brand spokesperson in the past. "They identified a number of years ago that a lot of their buyers happened to be gay, so they felt--well, we already have this reach--why not capitalize on it? So it really wasn't something they went out of their way to do, but they recognized a buyer."

Weintraub points out that New York-based Moon City, which handles the gay and lesbian market, is doing ads to support the new lineup as well.

The company has said it wants to sell 300,000 vehicles per year in the U.S. by 2013, and last year broke 200,000 for the first time. Its top seller is the Legacy sedan, which accounted for 84,442 vehicles sold last year. Turner says this year has been slower because the company has been selling down the last-generation Legacy in preparation for the new one.

Says Weintraub: "This is an exciting year for Subaru. They have a new Impreza, a new WRX, Tribec, restyled Outback and Legacy--nothing in the lineup that's not new."

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