Subaru Ad to Bring Near-Death Back From Holiday

After Cute and Quirky Spots, Automaker Gets Back to Safety Message

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A 2010 Subaru ad featured a car that saved a man's life.
A 2010 Subaru ad featured a car that saved a man's life.

After focusing on reliability, relationships and "love," in its ads, Subaru of America's' going back to the well with a creative theme broached a few years ago: a near-miss with death.

Subaru and agency Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis are working on a new ad called "They Lived," which revisits the normally taboo topic of death by car accident.

In the spot still under development, we follow a wrecked Subaru from the trooper handing it off to the wrecker and the wrecker to the junkyard. Each person who sees the mangled vehicle stares in horror until they're told the uplifting news: "They lived."

Finally, we see the family that survived the crash climbing into their new Subaru Outback (which is the same color as the wrecked car). "We lived, thanks to our Subaru," says the driver.

The spot closes with the brand's long-running tagline: "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru."

Dean Evans, Subaru's chief marketing officer, showed a sneak preview at an Automotive News marketing conference in New York. He said it's generating some of the highest scores ever in research. The new TV spot will roll out this fall as part of "safety pillar" breaking in November and December, said Mr. Evans.

The commercial is based on true stories the company hears each year from owners saying their Subaru saved their lives, or that of a loved one, in a crash, said Subaru spokesman Michael McHale. And the vehicle featured is an actual wreck where the driver survived, he said.

The planned spot may be testing well. But the creative idea is not exactly original.

Subaru used a similar approach right down to the junkyard and same-colored cars three years ago. In the spot, we saw a man driving to a junkyard to visit his wrecked Subaru. After retrieving his datebook from the back seat, he reflects: "My Subaru saved my life. I will never forget that."

Subaru denied it is switching gears on marketing strategy. The automaker routinely rotates through themes of safety, adventure, longevity and reliability, Mr. McHale said. The "They Lived" spot will be part of a previously planned return to a safety theme.

"I would say that we have always celebrated the safety of our vehicles and we will continue to do so in ways that are impactful and memorable," Mr. McHale said.

Traffic fatalities on American roads fell nearly 2% to 32,367 in 2011, the most recent year in which full-year numbers were available. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says overall deaths are down 26% from 2005.

Some automakers, such as Volvo, have addressed safety, even death, in their ads over the years, said Mr. Evans after his presentation.

"We recognize safety is very important to our consumers. So we want to run creative where safety is the theme," Mr. Evans said.

It also helps Subaru that the company's dealing from a position of strength. It's easier to push the envelope creatively when sales are hot. This year, Subaru has been one of the country's top-selling auto brands.

Subaru's September sales rose 15%, the second-highest overall gain in the industry behind only Jaguar's 31%, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

During the first nine months of 2013, Subaru's sales rose 28%, just slightly behind Jaguar (30%) and General Motors' Cadillac (29%), but ahead of Porsche (26%) and Ram (23%).

Meanwhile, Carmichael Lynch recently broke reliability spots that show how Subaru vehicles stand the test of time. In one new spot called "Stick Shift," we see a harried Dad trying to teach his battling twin sons how to drive a stick.

"We got the new Subaru because nothing could break our old one," says a weary Mom watching the scene. "I hope the same goes for my husband."

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