LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- To encourage pet owners to drive its cars, Subaru has gone to the dogs -- literally.Carmichael Lynch's brisk shoot." /> This weekend, the automaker will roll out a series of spots, created with Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, featuring all-canine drivers of the Subaru Forester under the tagline "Dog tested. Dog approved." Dogs are shown "driving" and even parallel parking their vehicles to tout Subaru's pup-friendly brand message. The spots will premiere during Animal Planet's "Dogs 101" marathon Saturday, with airings planned for Animal Planet's Sunday telecast of its sixth-annual "Puppy Bowl," National Geographic's "Dog Whisperer" marathon Feb. 15 and USA's coverage of "The Westminster Dog Show" Feb. 15 and 16. Subaru will also air different versions of the spots on its YouTube channel and on several key websites.
Kevin Mayer, the car maker's director-marketing communications, said about half of Subaru's customers own a pet, and it indexes higher than most car makers with dog owners. At its most recent annual sales event, Share the Love, customers could choose one of five charities to donate $250 of their Subaru purchase. A large percentage of those donations went to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which Subaru is an official sponsor. Beginning in 2008, the marketer started running print ads touting its ASPCA partnership that read, "Without dogs, how would you get rid of that new-car smell?"
"We wanted to develop the next stage of that partnership. The idea was to emotionally connect with the customers, so we asked our agency to do something different in a way from the communication we typically have with them," Mr. Mayer said.
The doggie outreach is the latest iteration of the "reverse upfront" integrated-marketing strategy Subaru started two years ago. The company meets with key media partners months before the marketplace formally moves to get first crack at key integrations and sponsorships. Deals with Animal Planet ("Groomer Has It," the "Dogs 101" marathon), Syfy (a co-starring role for the WRX in "Eureka") and History's "Expedition" were inked during that period.
Although many of the partnerships feature specific Subaru vehicles, Mr. Mayer likes to keep a more holistic focus on Subaru's marketing. "Most of what we do is really at the brand level. Forester happens to be the lead vehicle in these [dog] spots, but it's really about the brand and connecting with the consumer to let me know we care about their passion points."
And he's impressed by his latest "stars," pups Olive and Zelda, who showed natural acting abilities during Carmichael Lynch's brisk shoot.
"The dogs were such good stunt dogs and did a lot of the facial expressions just naturally," he said. During one ad, where Zelda attempts to parallel park her Forester on a curb, "she had her tail between her legs. It's as if she knew what was going on."
Marketers gather round dog bowl
Subaru, Hershey and Mars are all preparing big ad buys for Super Bowl weekend -- but you won't find them on CBS.