Subaru: The 50-Year-Old Brand Built On Love


I don’t know how much stock you put in fate. Or maybe you’re a “it’s just coincidence” kind of person. Regardless of where you fall on the serendipity scale as to why things happen the way they do, one thing that is undeniable is that the brand built on love, Subaru was founded the very same year a certain quartet of British young men released one of their most popular songs ever with a very similar theme to it.

That’s right. In *1967 the same year Subaru was launched The Beatles released All You Need Is Love.

Fate?

Irony?

You can decide for yourself.

But the fact is Subaru is one of the most well-known brands in the entire world across any industry. Not an easy feat especially for one which had such an auspicious oh first 40 years or so.

All You Need Is Patience

As they mark their 50th anniversary with a year long celebration, it’s worth noting that Subaru of America was essentially unprofitable for its first 40 years. A cynic would ask why stay in business for so long while not generating much of a profit? So me, playing the role of cynic did just that, posing that very question to Alan Bethke, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Subaru of America.

“Subaru’s first 40 years in the U.S. certainly had its ups and downs,” he acknowledged. “For many of those years, Subaru was not overly successful, but we remained steadfast in our goal of supplying the market with cost-efficient, safe vehicles to satisfy the growing needs of American families and adventure seekers.”

As recent as 2005 in fact sales were stagnant. 

Things began to change in late 2006 when a new creative agency, Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch was hired and a new set of emotionally charged advertisements followed. In what surely raised eyebrows at the time, instead of buying a Super Bowl slot, the company sponsored Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. 

In 2008 and 2009, Subaru began to see some initial signs of brand improvement and improved awareness among consumers. With increased visibility in the marketplace, Subaru solidified itself as a key contender among many long-established competitor brands.

“In the following years, the Love campaign, inspired by Subaru owners’ love of their vehicles, loved ones, and causes they keep close to their hearts, continued to build a new identity for Subaru,” said Bethke. “Under the notion that ‘Love’ is the uniting factor among the brand’s loyal customer base and ‘It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru,’ we created a personality to compliment the brand’s quality vehicles.

As a result, Subaru picked up additional momentum, including an increasingly positive perception among key constituents and increased consumer consideration for Subaru as their next vehicle purchase.

“Today, Subaru has a demand that exceeds its supply, resulting in 8 consecutive years of record-breaking sales and 9 consecutive years of sales increases,” Bethke added.

Throughout this ongoing journey, the equity that has been built in the Subaru brand has been done in a very deliberate and methodical way which includes many philanthropic endeavors.

“Our customers expect us to do good things in the community and they look for brands they can align with who have similar values,” said Michael McHale, Director, Corporate Communications for Subaru of America. “Not only that, it really helps our internal employees when they see the company do good things; it inspires them to be good in their communities themselves and that’s the same for our retailers too.”

Looking Ahead Part I

As for what the next 50 years holds for Subaru Bethke says that while they are sure to be exciting, there are still many opportunities they hope to leverage.

“We are looking forward to reaching those who align with the Subaru ideals and are newly aware of Subaru as a result of current marketing efforts, but have never considered Subaru in the past.” He cites the the approximately 60% of Subaru sales last year by first-time Subaru buyers as an example. 

He is to quick add, however that there is work to be done. “Amid all our success, there are still consumers who lack familiarity with the Subaru brand. Our opportunity moving forward is to continue to be true to Subaru’s identity and core beliefs, while continually expanding our brand’s awareness to this target.” 

Looking Ahead Part II

In terms of what lies ahead for the auto industry as a whole the first word that comes to mind for Bethke is: change. “The (auto) industry is currently going through an evolution which will only accelerate in the future.”

“Recently, we’ve seen automotive brands that have left the U.S. market, and brands that have gone out of business.” he said. “As the market continues to get even more competitive, there may be further brand consolidation from those who don’t adapt to the current changes and evolution.”

Bethke says consumer mindset is also evolving, especially within the Millennial generation, now firmly planted in the car buying market. “As the largest generation in American history, they will affect the auto market in terms of product and technology preference, as well as their expectations for the shopping, buying, and servicing process.”

He adds that all of this will cause automotive manufacturers and retailers (dealers) to adjust their products, services, and policies to meet this important customer group.

Bethke also believes two big name players outside the auto industry are making waves. “Not only will the way consumers use cars, including ride hailing and car sharing, evolve, but new potential players in the automotive space, including Google and Apple, are becoming key fixtures.”

In terms of marketing and advertising, he says there is change coming in some areas including technology, which is moving more media consumption to digital, including mobile, which is expected to continue. “Technology is also going to allow more individualized and personalized communications, allowing marketers to reach consumers with a more appropriate message at a more appropriate time, all based on data.”

Bethke does see one area within in the industry that may see less change in the future and that is how automotive brands market themselves. “The industry generally follows a pretty traditional path in terms of advertising and marketing,” he explained. “For example, there is a lot of automotive advertising for sales events, great deals and big discounts, product features and specifications, awards, and competitive comparisons. How those tactics are executed may change, but time has shown that automotive brands like to use these ingredients in their advertising.”

In closing Bethke says that overall the rate and extent of change in the auto industry is steadily accelerating and the automotive space will be more dynamic than ever before, within the next 50 years.

*Technically Subaru was not founded until 1968 but opened it’s first office in 1967.

Source: Forbes

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