Our team member, Sandra Todic, presented Planet Money – When Subaru came out in this week’s Podcast Palooza. An episode explaining how Subaru came to be seen as cars for lesbians. This reputation wasn’t a stereotype, but a result of a calculated ad campaign that launched 20 years ago.
The Story of Subaru Marketing in the USA:
– In 1990s, the sales for Subaru have been slumping for 7 years. Company’s attempt to reinvigorate sales with their first luxury car and hiring a hip ad agency failed.
– After that, management switched gears and, instead of going after the same demo of white 18-35 males, decided to market to niche groups – the outdoorsy types. First, they wanted to meet the people who were buying their bestselling car – the All-Wheel Drive, by doing focus groups in sales hot pockets across US.
– Focus groups helped identify 5 core groups: engineers, teachers, health-care professionals, outdoorsy types, and women (who identified themselves as head of household).
– Subaru created strategy and messaging for those 5 groups. For medical professionals the all-wheel drive could get them to hospital in any weather. For others, Subaru could handle dirt roads; for lesbians, it fit their active low-key lifestyle. Let’s not forget, this was during a time when very few companies would advertise to the LGBT communities. After launching the campaign, they would get angry letters but quickly realized, those people weren’t Subaru buyers in the first place.
The New Creative
Subaru hired an ad agency which created ads specifically for LGBT communities. The campaigns would use playful coding, references obvious to LGBT communities but not so much to others.
Their first print advertisement tagline was:
– “It loves dogs, camping and long-term commitment, too bad it’s only a car.”
In ads and commercials Subaru plates read “XENA” (the Warrior Princess) or “P-TOWN.” They also included specific messaging strategies in campaigns such as “Get Out. And Stay Out.” or “It’s not a choice, it’s the way we were built.” But, Subaru ads really hit it when they hired a former, openly lesbian, tennis player, Martina Navratilova, as spokesperson.
Subaru also integrated themselves into their target’s community, sponsoring gay-pride parades and non-profits. Today, Subaru is involved in over 40 organizations.
Tailored Messaging with Success
Subaru noticed a group of customers who felt invisible and underserved. The brand was not just creating ads for them, but immersed itself in causes and culture of their target market.
By 2006, Subaru had steady success. In fact, when the recession hit, it was the only car company not to be affected by it.
In the past years though, Subaru is no longer advertising to the same 5 groups. Their strategy changed. Why? Their niche marketing became the mainstream. Subaru adjusted to the changing marketing landscape by focusing their branding on people’s hobbies and interests (camping, etc).
The Podcast ends with a question, “Do ad campaigns influence the culture OR do they reflect the culture?”
What do you think ?
We loved this great little podcast. It was inspirational to hear about a company that cared enough about a group of untapped people to push further than anyone had ever gone in advertising. We applaud their daring and thinking!
If you are wondering what strategy resonates best with YOUR audience – hit us up and let us give you a free consultation!
At AMS, we have a weekly tradition: Podcast Palooza. Once a week, we all gather in our conference room and listen to a few of our colleagues present on podcast episodes. They share their reactions and takeaways from their podcast of choice and offer ideas on how it can be applied to our clients and our own company. It’s a small part of the week, but one that consolidates our internal brand as a company that participates in wider conversations, and that listens to the ideas of its employees. We are always on the lookout for innovative, charismatic thinkers, so send your podcast recommendations our way!
Listen to the whole podcast episode Planet Money: When Subaru Came Out