Subaru of America: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Subaru of America
While many automakers have struggled through 2009, Subaru of America has been one of only two brands that consistently tallied better new-vehicle sales.

The automaker reported early this month its U.S. sales for the month of October jumped by 41% vs. a year ago and its vehicle sales in the first 10 moths rose by 13% to 176,590 units compared to the same year-ago period. Subaru's market share is now 2%, up from 1.4% at the end of the first 10 months of 2008. It's an amazing feat in this economic climate and for a niche marketer that doesn't spend as much on advertising as bigger players. (Subaru spent $150 million in U.S. measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.)

Subaru's success boils down to smart strategies under the baton of CMO-Senior VP Tim Mahoney, who is in the third year of his second tour of duty overseeing marketing at the automaker. Mr. Mahoney also now guides the brand's product management and public relations.

Mr. Mahoney, part of the team that roused Subaru from near-death in the mid-1990s, has managed to add emotions to the rational, sensible, reliable brand with ads from Carmichael Lynch themed "Love. It's What Makes a Subaru a Subaru."

"One of the reasons we are doing relatively well in this dismal auto market is that we know who we are and we speak of things that are relevant to our customers," said Mr. Mahoney. So Subaru has linked the brand's core values to those of their active, pet-owning, environmentally aware, socially-involved customers. It's tied into causes and activities that matter to owners, such as signing on as sponsor of the ASPCA this spring, which included a trio of anti-cruelty animal festivals.

Tim Mahoney
Tim Mahoney, CMO, Subaru of America
Subaru models won lots of third-party accolades this year. named each of the 2009 Subaru Impreza, Impreza WRX STI, and Forester a "Best Bet." The Forester was also named to the "Best Family Cars of 2009" list by the team of Parents Magazine and auto site Last month, Mr. Mahoney accepted the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's Corporate Responsibility Award on behalf of Subaru, which he drove into the category 15 years ago, the first automaker to do so.

Subaru has managed to make the "love" theme stick beautifully via ads depicting the fact that Subaru owners keep their vehicles virtually forever -- or pass them along to family members.

Subaru's reverse upfront strategy has been smart, too -- getting its vehicles integrated into cable TV shows like Syfy's "Eureka" and History Channel's "Expedition Africa."

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