Ad Review Rating: 2 stars SUBARU'S ALL-WHEEL DRIVE FOCUS IS LESS THAN UNIQUE

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The very best thing about the new Subaru campaign from Temerlin McClain is that it doesn't include even one monologue from a grungy, 24-year-old cheesesack on the subject of punk rock and automotive relevance.

The predecessor campaign, from Wieden & Kennedy, did of course feature such a monologue, earning Subaru almost instant contempt from nearly everyone in America.

The second best thing about the new campaign is the certainty of what it's about. Whereas the Wieden approach seemed to be entirely demographic, identifying and sweet-talking various potential constituencies without saying much about the actual line of cars, the new advertising is unmistakably about "The beauty of all-wheel drive."

That's the slogan. That's the focus of every single print and TV ad. That's the unique selling proposition, put forward as a major safety advantage.

"The all-new Subaru Legacy has the traction to turn a winter storm into a day at the beach," says one of seven new spots, showing a Legacy wagon in a wind tunnel under simulated blizzard conditions. "And a day at the beach? Well [cut to a California beach scene, complete with leggy blondes] Subaru all-wheel drive is the ultimate safety feature. It reacts instantly, transferring power automatically from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip [cut to animated mechanical drawings of the four-wheel drive in action]. So all you have to do is enjoy the drive. [Cut back to the beach and babes.] The all-season, all-wheel, all-fun Subaru Legacy. The beauty of all-wheel drive."

As we said, except for the embarrassingly gratuitous girlie images, the advertising is an undiluted homage to all-wheel drive. Filming the strategy, that is called, and there are worse advertising approaches. On the other hand, if you eschew all else for a unique selling proposition, forsake brand image, make no attempt to maximize creative impact to compensate for relatively limited media dollars, if, in short, you bet the farm on the strategy, well, you'd better have one helluva strategy.

And this one isn't, particularly.

For one thing, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for those who do not deem traction their first purchasing consideration, all-wheel drive may not be all that beautiful.

Secondly, the USP, while certainly distinctive, is nonetheless a general safety claim-territory Subaru owns all by itself, except for Volvo, Mercedes, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Saab, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Ford, General Motors and, if we're not mistaken, Simca. In effect, the strategy forecloses any other brand benefit, including the value image that built the brand in the U.S.

Finally (and this, as somebody once put it, is practically amazing) there is this notable fact: All-wheel drive, upon which the brand is hinging all of its fortunes, is an option.

An option! A $1,000 option. An option that makes the handsome Legacy LS Wagon pictured in many of the ads cost $21,455. And, at that price, many car shoppers-lured to the dealership by what turns out to be a pricey extra-will avail themselves of the option ...

... to buy a Taurus.

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