Subaru’s two-pronged approach to building awareness

The Crosstrek is a rowdy teen in one of the brand's off-beat ads, which have been supplemented with a more direct masterbrand strategy.
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Despite sales being better than ever in Canada during a challenging time, Subaru has some ground to make up when it comes to its brand awareness. So it is supplementing the off-beat approach it takes for vehicle launches by also telling its masterbrand story, enforcing what makes every Subaru a Subaru.

Durability, value, safety and trust are the pillars the brand chose to put under the spotlight in its recent “Made to be a Subaru” campaign, by showing then-and-now moments of various Subaru owners and the impact that the vehicles had on their lives.

But today, Subaru launched a campaign for its 2021 Crosstrek model, personifying the vehicle as a teenager with a attitude, who its “parents” love but admit they do things like go off unannounced to pursue their passions (off-roading in the wilderness) or coming home with tattoos (a bumper sticker).

The new Crosstrek campaign is more in line with the kind of advertising historically associated with Subaru, more of an off-beat and comedic approach that has included “sexy” sumo wrestlers to more recent efforts that put the Outback in competition with a mountain goat to determine which is the “greatest of all time.”

Ted Lalka, SVP of marketing and project management, says that approach is usually taken to launch new models, as the humorous approach can convey a vehicle’s particular “personality.” Subaru also has a commercial in market highlighting its 2021 Forester, featuring a family racing down forest roads to catch a dog that floated away in their canoe.

The new masterbrand campaign, by contrast, is more sentimental than funny, showing how Subaru has been there for various family milestones among its owners. But it is also more direct about the common attributes across its portfolio – like its ability to retain value over time and its safety features. For the masterbrand campaign, it’s looking to tackle masterbrand problems – namely that it still has relatively low awareness compared to other car brands.

In August, Subaru reported record sales, up 11.5% year-over-year, and Lalka says it cracked the 6,000 monthly sales mark for the first time in September, helping it to begin to make up some of the declines it saw during the initial arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite those positive results in a challenging year, Subaru still lags behind the likes of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda in total sales.

Lalka says Subaru is still a “relatively small” manufacturer that probably gets outspent in marketing by those larger ones. Subaru owners, despite showing big brand loyalty and keeping their vehicles for a long time, tend not to boast about them.

“It’s important to explain what our brand represents, especially if you’re trying to differentiate yourself,” he says. “What makes Subaru special? What makes our vehicles unique? Why would you want to consider them? This [masterbrand] campaign zeroes in on those specific reasons.”

Lalka says the mainstream brands typically have a vehicle in every segment, but Subaru focuses on its SUVs – which Lalka notes remains “the vehicle of choice by so many consumers today”– and performance vehicles like the WRX and BRZ. That’s why it is important to take a dual pronged approach that shows the common features across its portfolio, but also shows what makes its models different, both from the competition and each other.

Lalka adds, based on the research Subaru has done, people are looking for “real value” right now – not the cheapest vehicle, but a vehicle that will last. This sentiment has been heightened during the pandemic as people become more mindful of their spending.

Zulu Alpha Kilo led creative on both campaigns, with OMD on media and Agence Rinaldi on French adapation.