CASSIES Gold: Subaru’s sexy sumos

DDB’s campaign shakes up the market and triples long-term sales.

GOLD: Sustained Success

Situation Analysis: In early 2008, Subaru was a niche player in the Canadian market with a stable but uninspiring 1% share. Its Japanese heritage was largely unknown (most people thought it was Korean) and its cornerstone nameplate, Forester, had seen declining sales for the best part of 10 years. People thought the Forester looked dated, and its quirky design meant that potential buyers didn’t know if it was an SUV or a station wagon. In early 2008, Subaru decided enough was enough and launched a newly designed Forester – more stylish, and looking more like a conventional SUV. Sales objectives were ambitious: a 50% increase for the 2009 model year, and continued growth at 5% through 2012. This would mean taking on Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. They controlled 70% of category sales in 2007, while Forester had 2%.

Strategy & Insight: Research showed that people didn’t know that Subaru was Japanese, and when they learned this their opinions immediately improved. So communication had to signal Subaru’s provenance. Research also showed that the primary target (adults with young kids) were conflicted. While raising kids was rewarding, it also meant sacrifice, particularly where cars were concerned. SUVs were logical and sensible but did they have to be so dull? From this came a key decision – to make Forester playful, fun and downright sexy.

Execution: The long-running sumo campaign featured sumo wrestlers instead of bikini-clad babes, placed in a host of stereotypically sexy situations. Media elements included television, print, online banners, homepage and campaign landing page, in-store POP, microsite, in-video game, radio and social media.

Results: In year one, sales increased 115%, and the momentum has continued, with the most recent annual sales almost triple what it was before the sumo campaign launched.

Cause & Effect: There were no changes in spending, pricing, number of dealers or promotional activity to explain these results (details were supplied). It was also clear that the campaign, despite spending levels well below Honda and Toyota, was getting through, with initial consideration up 400% and purchase intention up 83%.


Subaru Canada
VP, product planning & marketing: Ted Lalka
director of advertising: Geoff Craig

DDB Canada / Toronto
SVP & business unit director: Michael Davidson
account director: Geoff Taylor
CD: Andrew Simon
ACD, copywriter: Matt Antonello
ACD, AD: Paul Riss
director of broadcast production: Andrew Schulze
digital CD: Dre Labre
digital AD: Ryan Semeniuk
digital copywriter: Travis Sellar
digital producer: Cathy Kim

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