Subaru, whose advertising commitment to the gay and lesbian community goes back a decade, has struck a brand integration deal with Showtime Networks' lesbian soap opera "The L Word."
The Subaru Forester appears regularly in a storyline involving the character Dana Fairbanks, a closeted lesbian pro-tennis player, concerned about her public image. She is approached by a corporation for an endorsement role. Showtime pacted with Subaru to play the role of the endorser after shopping it around to other brands. So far the car has appeared in at least 5 episodes.
The advertiser role was offered to Nike, Adidas, Wilson, and others, who all turned it down. "They didn't say they were homophobic, but they just didn't come to the table," said Rose Lam, Showtime in-house producer on "The L Word."
The ads with Dana mimic real Subaru ads created by the automaker's actual ad shop Moon City Productions, New York, including one execution with the tagline "Get out and stay out." The storyline takes a dramatic turn when Subaru—who knows she's gay—courts her then outs her in the campaign.
"This is art imitating life," said Tim Bennett, director-marketing programs, Subaru of America. "Anybody could've come in with a big pocket book and gotten this thing. But the target audience would have called them on it. We are the pioneers in this segment. We're hoping to do more of this in the future."
The deal between Showtime and Subaru was initiated and negotiated by Do Tell Inc., a small marketing company based in Conshohocken, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. The shop, a partnership between Pam Derderian, Nancy Becker and tennis great Martina Navratilova—who has appeared in Subaru advertising—, was responsible for creating the VISA Rainbow Card, which raises money for non-profit lesbian and gay health, cultural and civil rights groups. Derderian would not reveal the terms of the Showtime deal.
Getting a brand on a non-ad supported network like Showtime is nearly impossible, according to John Nash, president of Moon City. "In the past, the only way to do ad support for a network like Showtime was through their Web site, sho.com," said Nash, who previously developed a sweepstakes with "Queer as Folk" to launch the DVD release of the first season and gave a Subaru away. "The subtlety of the inclusion of the brand works in the 'L Word,' because that's the way Subaru does business with this community in general," said Nash. "This is one of those rare moments in which the story actually required a brand like this."
Some industry observers say that Subaru turned around a dramatic sales slide at the time that it began running ads in the gay press in 1994. They have since expanded their gay marketing agenda into the mainstream media with ads rich in gay innuendo such as this tagline for Subaru Forester: "Good manners. Great personality. And a rear that just won't quit." And they have been unwavering sponsors of gay organizations such as the not-for-profit Commercial Closet Association and events like The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Gay Ski Week in Telluride.