Subaru Canada Responds!

I thought I had dealt with my sour feelings over the Sumo Wrestler campaign for our beloved Subaru. As the dedicated member of a family well practiced at stuffing down unpleasant feelings and pretending that things never happened, I thought I could forget and move on.  But on our last camping trip of the season it all came flooding back to the surface.

I had picked up the campground orientation booklet for the purpose of briefing Taylor and Jack on the telltale characteristics of poison ivy, when the ad on the back cover caught my eye.

Click Here to see the Subaru ad

Oh dear.  That sumo wrestler has followed me into the wilderness.  A regular reader of the blog had warned me to watch out for him hiding in my backseat, and I had laughed at the thought.  But look.  There he was.

When I wrote the original post in early August, I took the liberty of sending a link along to Subaru Canada just to see what kind of response I might get.  Maybe the marketing gurus there would recognize my marketing genius and see the error of their ways.  Maybe they would be so impressed with my insight that they would offer me a consulting gig on the spot!  Perhaps they would beg for our continued loyalty and offer us a deep discount on a new Tribeca to accomodate our growing space requirements.  Hope springs eternal in my daydreams.

I didn’t have much time to dream about what might happen.  Their response came in less than an hour:

Sent: August-02-11 1:32 PM

To: Diane Williams

Subject: ROU – Forester Ad

Ms. Williams,

Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinion on our recent advertising campaign.  We sincerely apologize if you found the ad to be in some way objectionable. It was
certainly not our intent to upset or offend anyone. At Subaru Canada, we always try to create advertising that gets noticed and sets us apart from our competitors. In our most recent campaign, we wanted to showcase the redesigned features of the new 2011 Forester in the most impactful and entertaining way possible. As a Japanese automobile manufacturer, we pride ourselves on building safe, reliable vehicles, with the highest quality standard.  The idea behind the new advertising is to leverage our Japanese heritage while showcasing the new features of the 2011 Forester SUV in a fun, surprising way.

The Forester campaign concept with the sumo wrestlers and the tagline “Sexy Comes Standard”, was researched with consumers during campaign development and before it was aired. The advertising’s tongue-in-cheek humour is meant to generate a smile and not to be taken too seriously.  We believe the ads are respectful to the athletes and their sport.  The authentic professional sumo wrestlers that appear in the advertising are the top in their field and are widely admired for their athletic capabilities. Given sumo wrestling’s deep tradition and respected place in Japanese culture, we felt that this was a great way to bring attention to the Japanese-engineered, Subaru Foresters unique style and performance capabilities.

Subaru Canada values the opinions of our customers and potential customers, and we appreciate that you took the time to contact us.


Richard Ouellette | Bilingual Consumer Support
Representative, Customer Care/Service à la clientèle

I remember dating someone in high school.  I loved him dearly and thought he loved me
too.  I thought we would be together forever.  But then one day, he sent a clear message that showed he did not care for me as deeply as I cared for him.  To him I was just a good friend.  And he had lots of friends.

I’m tempted to write back to Subaru pointing out that they’ve left the apostrophe out of “Forester’s” in the last paragraph of their form letter.  But then they might think I care about them.  And I’m so over my love affair with Subaru.

Next week, we’re planning to take the Honda Odyssey for a test drive.


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.

The Wandering Mind of a Soccer Mom — Part 2

In my last post, I described a great example of amateur sports sponsorship used to deeply engage a relevant consumer target.  Continuing on that topic….

I also award kudos to last winter’s league-wide sponsor of my eight year old son Jack’s hockey team.  At around this age our budding NHL superstars typically get their first taste of tournament play and so we were faced with the new experience of packing up our Subaru Forester for weekend-long, team trips.  Well, the hockey bag alone is humungous!  Add luggage for a family of four, a 12 pack of beer, juice boxes, snacks
and the like, along with bulky winter wear, and we were squeezed tight in a vehicle that had always been more than adequate in the past.  The timing could not have been more perfect for our league sponsor to write ‘Caravan Kids’ on the back of each and every player’s hockey jersey!

We had to admit that we were going to need more space soon, but Craig and I couldn’t imagine ourselves owning a minivan.  Maybe a nice hybrid SUV some day… but never, ever, a minivan.

Then along came plans for a winter trip to visit my Dad in Florida.  The mere thought of twenty-four hours in the car with Jack and his sister Taylor bickering and within poking
distance of each other in the back seat was more than we could bear, and so we chose the next best low cost option and flew out of Buffalo.  Once we reached Orlando, we rented a minivan in order to accomodate the four of us plus my Dad, on outings.  By some co-incidence it turned out to be a Dodge Caravan.

“Awesome!” Jack said when he saw the side doors slide magically open with the click of a button.

“I get the back seat!” said Taylor.

“I’ll sit way up here,” said Jack, taking the second row.

Not only could they sit FAR apart from each other, but the storage compartments, passenger lighting and armrests kept them occupied for what seemed like an eternity.  Meanwhile, Craig and I loaded our luggage in the back.

“Are you sure we’re not missing a bag?” I said.

Having driven to the airport in our packed full Subaru, I simply couldn’t believe that a skinny looking area behind the third row seating could hold so much.  Our hoard of luggage fit easily, with room to spare.  Craig and I giggled with glee as we settled into the luxurious captain’s chairs and oriented ourselves to the variety of gadgets within reach.  The kids were still fiddling with their cup holders as Craig accelerated through the parking garage, smoothly taking corners at speeds well beyond the posted limit.  Maybe we are minivan people!

Now if only the marketers behind our local hockey sponsorship had gone that one step further to give everyone whose son was wearing a Caravan Kid jersey this kind of experience!  How about offering an entry in a draw to win a free two year lease to everyone who brings their family to test drive a Caravan?  How about having a collection of hockey equipment and weekend luggage on hand in the showroom to illustrate the storage capacity behind that third row?  How about displaying the vehicle at the arena for a weekend so everyone going in and out could at least have an up close look?  I can think of a hundred ways to take what must have been a costly league wide sponsorship, one step closer to closing the deal.

In my years as a marketer, I never gave much consideration to amateur sports sponsorship.  But now that my butt is aching from sitting through a year’s worth of games, I realize that there are thousands of parents just like me, watching those jerseys streak by week after week.  Together, we are a captive audience that is ripe for the taking.  But companies are going to have to go further than a logo.