One of the big mysteries of the auto industry, to a casual observer at least, would be how Subaru keeps growing by huge leaps and bounds. Its cars aren’t very fast (WRX and STI excepted), aren’t very good looking, and they don’t have the most frugal fuel economy. But Subaru apparently doesn’t need to appeal to those things at all. It appeals to the heart.
There is definitely something odd about Subarus that make you love them, like Saab used to be, before it became, ya know, dead. But Subaru isn’t dying at all, it’s growing at astonishing rates. Seriously, in the last four years they’ve grown their sales by almost 45 percent, second only to Fiat-Chrysler, and an in-depth report from Bloomberg set out to find out why:
Doll, then chief operating officer of Subaru in North America, pitched a bold plan to the top executives in Tokyo: Stop crowing about horsepower and prices and start talking about the love customers have for their cars. Don’t stop there, Doll suggested. Talk about the love customers have for their cars, their kids, their dogs, their kayaks, and their communities.
In late 2006, Doll hired a new creative agency, Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, a unit of Interpublic Group. The first change was simple: The tag line—”It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru”—was prefaced by “Love.” A slate of emotionally charged ads followed. Kids and dogs were everywhere. The only features the company lingered on were safety-related. Instead of buying a Super Bowl slot, the company sponsored Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. “Before 2008, you kind of knew about Subaru or you didn’t,” says marketing chief Alan Bethke. “That all changed with the ‘Love’ campaign.”
That’s basically the crux of it, along with a few lucky breaks along the way. The Outback, for example, was a crossover-wagon-type thing that Subaru had been making for years, and which suddenly got really popular in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
But the marketing push has been a big help, according to Bloomberg, and it’s not just in terms of advertising, either. Subaru put its money where its mouth is, pouring money into philanthropy, and having each vehicle sale result in money being sent to a charity.
People apparently love that sort of not-feeling-like-a-horrible-monster-because-you-bought-a-new-car thing, and it works, to the point where Subaru now has some of the fattest profit margins in the game.
There’s one thing that I keep thinking about, though, and it is this whole “love” concept. Subaru’s executives might take a lot of the credit for making people love their cars with the way the dealership experience works, or the marketing campaigns, or the way all-wheel-drive cures the nagging sense of insecurity you have that’s a result of your 3rd grade bedwetting experience which only manifests itself when driving on smooth, dry, perfectly straight roads.
I think a lot of the credit goes to the engineers. Just look at what we’ve said about Subarus. We don’t really know why we love them, not in a numerical, quantifiable sense. But we do.
Photo credit: Subaru