#TBT: 50 Years of Subaru Ads

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An early ad for the Subaru 360, a vehicle which debuted in the U.S. in 1968
An early ad for the Subaru 360, a vehicle which debuted in the U.S. in 1968 Credit: Subaru

Subaru's "Love" campaign is among the most recognizable and enduring marketing efforts in the automobile category. But the brand has not always been this consistent. In the 1990s alone, Subaru cycled through various taglines, including "What to Drive," "The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive," "Driven by What's Inside," and "Think, Feel, Drive."

These are among the advertising tidbits Subaru of America shared this week as it prepares a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary. The celebration culminates on Feb. 15, 2018, when it will mark its founding on that date by American businessmen Malcolm Bricklin and Harvey Lamm. Together they sold Subaru franchises that marketed Subaru cars imported from Japan. (Fuji Heavy Industries acquired Subaru of America in 1990.)

The first Subaru to reach the U.S. was called the 360 and it cost just $1,290 -- which was then $300 cheaper than the competing Volkswagen Beetle, according to Subaru. With its early advertising, Subaru of America's sought to differentiate its vehicles from other foreign car brands, leading to one of its first ads declaring that "Subaru is not a Japanese Beetle." The marketer embraced affordability, like in the ad below that declared it "the economy car for today's economy," while other ads stated, "Cheap and Ugly Does It."

Flash forward to the 1990s, when Subaru used a celebrity-driven approach, like this ad featuring Paul Hogan for the Outback.

As Subaru noted in this week's announcement, it was during this period that the brand "noted its following among lesbian car buyers and produced groundbreaking ads aimed at the lesbian market." This included ads featuring gay tennis star Martina Navratilova.

But Subaru "was still lacking a firm identity with the public," the marketer noted in this week's anniversary announcement. That began to change in the mid-2000s when ad agency Carmichael Lynch uncovered the insight that "Subaru vehicles were purchased by a core group of loyal owners who often expressed their strong affection and devotion to the brand," according to Subaru. Alas, the Love campaign launched in 2008 with its tagline: "Love. It's what makes Subaru, a Subaru."

"Love is the most powerful emotion and 'I love my Subaru' is the most used phrase I hear about our brand," Tim Mahoney, then the chief marketing officer for Subaru of America, said in a press release when the campaign launched. "We wanted to show the bond between Subaru owners and their cars through this work." (Mr. Mahoney is currently the global CMO for Chevrolet.)

Below is one of the early ads from the campaign, called "Heaven."

Subaru used a scene from that ad in a spot that debuted last year called "Proud to Earn Your Trust" that featured flashbacks to other classic "Love" ads, including "Welcoming Party," which told the story of a group of brothers traveling to Maine on New Year's Eve to experience the year's first sunrise.

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