Subaru Believes Dog-focused Advertising Has Been a Large Part of Its Success

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Automotive advertising has always been an amalgamation of information and hype. Carmakers use commercials to inform the public of what makes their model different and new, while simultaneously promising an intangible goodness. Mid-century ads were less specific, reassuring prospective customers of a nondescript better way of life, but modern marketing has become much more focused. If ads are to be believed, buying a car today means purchasing more than just the hardware its comprised of — you’re buying an identity.

I’m reminded of a collection of car commercials from the 1960s that essentially vowed to nerds that, if they bought a specific car, they would be pursued endlessly by attractive women. It was a bold and extremely unsubtle way to kick off the new trend.

We’ve come a long way evolved slightly since then, but the concept of identity-focused advertising is more popular than ever. In fact, Subaru attributes a large portion of its own success to marketing that closely associates the brand with good values, family, lovable mutts, and the great outdoors.

Subaru has also abandoned broad-based advertising extravaganzas like the sporting events because that’s not its core demographic. But other automakers have followed suit, with more brands leaving the Super Bowl behind every year to seek a less blanketed approach.

“We don’t buy commercial time in the NFL or any other professional sport,” Alan Bethke, senior VP- of marketing at Subaru of America told Advertising Age in a recent interview. “Subaru is very clear of who we are … We don’t use a shotgun approach to just try to say ‘If you are a football fan you are going to like Subaru.’ We think we can be more sophisticated than that.”

That’s true. Subaru has always done things a little differently and eschewed the Super Bowl for the Puppy Bowl — partially because it knows a large portion of its patronage are dog-owners. It also has a very public partnership with the Center for Pet Safety and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — not to mention a nearly decade-long ad campaign that focus entirely on canines.

The television spots have ranged from hilarious antics of dogs hooning cars on a frozen lake to a tearjerking vignette where an owner uses his Impreza to facilitate his elderly dog’s final dream weekend. Obviously, pets don’t possess as much in the way of brand loyalty, but that’s not the point. The ads aren’t for the dogs, they’re for their owners.

It’s an extension of its long-running “Love” campaign, which makes a corporate promise to make a positive impact in the world while lovable running ads that focus on pets, people, and adventure. It’s incredibly effective at making you feel something, even though you still realize you’re watching an ad. There’s just something strangely earnest about it, which is a tall order when the brand identity you’re selling is literally love.

The strategy seems to have worked. Despite not having the most diverse lineup, Subaru of America has been on a hot-streak for years and sold 360,513 vehicles through July — an 8.7 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, the overall U.S. market declined by 2.9 percent as the automotive market experiences a long-anticipated downturn.

Subaru is sticking to its targeted advertising formula as it begins marketing the redesigned 2018 Crosstrek, which entered the subcompact crossover market in August. Two new heart-manipulating ads by Carmichael Lynch continue the long running “Love” campaign and feature an emotionally possessive dog and a clandestine cross-generational summit between grandfather and grandson.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Swiftfox4 Swiftfox4 on Sep 05, 2017

    My 2003 Forester lasted for 347,000, with the obligatory quart of oil between oil changes toward the end. My sister-in-law bought a 2014. Recently my brother said she would step on the gas and only get a noise and I had to explain what a CVT was. I considered getting another Forester before turning in my TDI Golf. But when I found out you can only get a manual in the base model, I passed. They really are getting by on their old rep.

  • Philosophil Philosophil on Sep 06, 2017

    I honestly don't understand all the negative posts against Subaru on this site as it seems contrary to so much else that I've read on other sites. Are Subarus really as unreliable as people here attest? Are the cases being reported here typical or anomalous (though very animated)? Are the problems merely anecdotal or is there statistical evidence supporting these claims of unreliability? I ask because an Outback is on my current short list of potential cars to buy. I like the car-like ride, the ease of ingress and egress, and thought the 3.6 was a very nice ride overall.

    • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Sep 06, 2017

      Philosophil - There are several commenting on TTAC against Subaru on a routine basis. These naysayers mostly fall into groups: 1) were owners of a Subaru 10 years or more ago when head gasket failures as well as other issues were occurring and are still sore about it long after they owned it. 2) Mazda and VW owners that can't abide the fact that folks would consider a Subaru (a brand which currently outsells Mazda and VW combined in the US) over brands they fawn over but may or may not own. 3) me-too'ers that jump on the bandwagon to become part of the cool-kids crowd to get noticed. 4) pretty much everyone who hates CVT's - most of 'em are too young to remember the smooth and shift-less Buick Dynaflow and Chevrolet Turboglide transmissions which felt pretty much the same as a CVT but way slower off the line - hating CVT's gets you in with the cool-kids of 3) above. I get a kick out of seeing the same comments by the same posters over and over rending garments and venting spleens - I occasionally toss some red meat over the fence to stir 'em up. Make your own choice - I own two Outbacks, one a 115k-mile '11 with a CVT and the other a 29k mile-'14 with a 6-mt and, as I have owned more than 20 vehicles over 40-odd years, consider them good, reliable quality vehicles.

  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.
  • Graham The answer to a question that shouldn't have been asked LOL
  • Bill Wade I live in AZ. I don't think you'd find very many LEOs that would pay the slightest attention to kids on e-bikes.