You Are What You Drive

My high school parking lot was filled with cars the adults in our small town no longer wanted.  There were Ford Pintos and Gremlins, rusty Buicks and bondo patched Oldsmobiles.  I even had a girlfriend who drove a 1960-something Dodge Dart.  Once, when her sister was behind the wheel, the driver’s seat back suddenly came loose and
fell into the backseat, resulting in hysterical laughter from of all of us riding in the car with her.  True, there was the occasional rich kid who drove an elaborately painted Firebird, but he was the rare exception.  Regardless of the condition of the vehicle, we all drove our cars with pride.  Our cars became extensions of ourselves and we outfitted them with personal touches like a zebra print cover on the driver seat and party souvenirs hung from the rear view mirror.

As a proudly practical person, I continued to purchase used cars even after I had a good job.  My first brand new car didn’t come until I was well into my thirties.  The president of the company I was working for at the time grinned as he slid an offer letter across the table outlining the details of my new job.

“It comes with a company car,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

I stood up, raised my arms in the air and shouted: “Yippee!”

My husband and I spent weeks exploring all of the automotive options available within my cap cost.  In the end it came down to a Nissan Maxima with all the bells and whistles versus a base model BMW 320i with only a couple of add ons.  Clearly, there was more value in the Nissan.  But I just couldn’t get that BMW logo out of my head.  Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that one day I would be behind the wheel of a BMW.  This was my chance.  Who knew if I would ever have this opportunity again?  But I was torn.

My practical side kept whispering Maxima.  It asked: “Are you really so shallow that you need a car with a fancy logo to make you feel better about yourself?”

And at that time, the answer was wholeheartedly YES!

I loved that car.  When I drove it I felt like somebody, and I couldn’t help smiling at the BMW logo in the centre of the steering wheel.  Whenever I visited my hometown, I prayed that one of the ‘cool kids’ who teased me in high school would be working at the gas station when I went to fill it up.  Never happened.

But those days are gone.  I now realize that the people I really care about don’t give a crap what kind of car I drive and I’m done with trying to impress people I don’t know.  But I’d be lying if I said the car I drive doesn’t matter to me.  While my values may have evolved, I still do see my car as a reflection of them.

We bought our first Subaru Forester in 2003 at a time when Lance Armstrong was the front man and the tagline was “Driven by what’s inside.”  We knew all about Subaru’s
rally car heritage and my husband Craig understood how this factored into the engineering of our new Forester.  It was a practical buy.  It offered plentiful trunk space,
good fuel economy and was super safe for our little ones.   Plus, Subaru was a name that we felt good about.  Craig and I were the kind of twenty-somethings that drank Black Label long before the ads made it cool to do so and brought Labatt 50 to parties to differentiate our BYOB from everyone else’s.  We liked the fact that Subaru was a brand that wasn’t in many driveways.

During the years when I drove my entirely impractical BMW, the Forester was our reliable snow bus.  Even with high quality snow tires the rear wheel drive of my Bimmer resulted in frequent fishtailing, but the Forester’s all wheel drive ground through knee
high snow drifts like they were nothing.

The fantastic performance of the vehicle and great service department experience drew us back in 2007 when we replaced it with a new one.  This time we could afford little
extras like seat heaters, a huge moon-roof and the turbo charged engine of Craig’s dreams.  And we loved it.

Sadly, the sumo wrestler ads that have been on air for the last couple of years have made us love it a little less.  Have a look:

We are a family that prides ourselves in being athletic and outdoorsy.  We take our Subaru on camping trips, to the baseball diamond and soccer fields.  Places where a sumo wrestler does not belong.  Seeing him squished in the back seat between two uncomfortable looking kids, and sprawled across the hood makes me cringe.

As a marketer, I worry that the sales increase Subaru has attributed to this award winning campaign may be a short term gain at the expense of the long term health of the brand.  How many loyal Subaru owners like us are beginning to think that this is
not a brand for them?  With the long purchase cycle on new vehicles, Subaru won’t feel the pinch of us turning away until years from now.  And by then we may have fallen in love with a new brand.

I am a fiercely patriotic Canadian and so I hate to admit it, but the U.S. advertising speaks to me much more strongly.   This is a much more accurate reflection of the life that we lead with our Subaru Forester:

And this is why we would have been Subaru owners long into the future:

Unfortunately for Subaru, if this sumo wrestler thing keeps up, I’m no longer sure what our automotive future holds.