Subaru's Got 'Safe' Locked Up, but It Wants 'Fun,' Too

Full-Wheel-Drive Brand Broadens Message With 'Active Driving' Theme

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Subaru doesn't want to simply play it safe.

The Fuji Heavy Industries brand traditionally has stood for a safe, all-wheel-drive vehicle. But the automaker is trying to augment that message with the theme of "active driving" to broaden what Senior VP-Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney calls a new brand architecture that encompasses fun, freedom, adventure and confidence.
Subaru's WRX is targeted at what CMO Tim Mahoney described as the man-child thrill seeker.
Subaru's WRX is targeted at what CMO Tim Mahoney described as the man-child thrill seeker.

It's about time the brand took a good look at itself. In the seven years since Mr. Mahoney left Subaru of America, it has had five advertising taglines and three marketing VPs. "I'm here to stabilize things," said Mr. Mahoney, who rejoined the automaker from Porsche last summer.

A car for every need
Subaru's plan is to match each model with its target audience and their passion points. "Families on the move," for example, are the target for the Tribeca crossover vehicle.

Doug Scott, senior VP at consultant GfK Automotive, said Subaru hasn't really communicated Tribeca's product benefits to non-owners since its launch in spring 2005, and that the automaker has not had enough sustained advertising for the souped-up turbo Impreza WRX car, which arrived in the U.S. in 2001, or for the Forester SUV.

"Active safety can morph into a good position for Subaru, but it has to tell people the story with national advertising," he said. Subaru has connected a lot of the smaller dots for its owners by tying in with biking, skiing and other outdoor groups, but it hasn't connected a lot of the larger dots for non-owners, Mr. Scott said.

Fun to drive
Subaru spent $159 million in measured media on all its models in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The WRX, which marked the company's addition of fun-to-drive to messaging six years ago, will carry that mantle again when the redone 2008 model goes on sale in August. Targeted at what Mr. Mahoney described as the man-child thrill seeker, Subaru is hoping to attract younger newcomers to the brand via a three-year deal with Travis Pastrana. The motocross-pro-turned-rally-car-driver will drive the WRX in this summer's X Games, which added a rally driving event at Subaru's urging.

Subaru is prelaunching the WRX on a microsite that went live in late March and quickly gathered 60,000 opt-ins seeking more information, Mr. Mahoney said. A trio of 30-second online films in Japanese-anime style for the car from New York's Moon City Productions is teased on the site.

The new architecture was used for creative development by general agency DDB and media planning and buying via Omnicom Group sibling Prometheus, both New York. The first ads under the plan, for Tribeca and Outback, are aimed at the "constant adventurer" and will break next month in June magazines.

A good year
Subaru finally broke the 200,000 annual-unit-sales mark last year in the U.S. and wants to sell more than 270,000 vehicles here by 2010, Ikuo Mori, president-CEO of Fuji, said at the New York auto show earlier this month.

Susan Jacobs, president of consultant Jacobs & Associates, said that sales target is attainable, especially if Subaru continues to tie in with active, recreational associations that can create an emotional bond with the children of baby boomers. "The key is to retain affordability, resist the urge to move upmarket and retain your accessibility."
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