MY2009 Subaru Forester

Sustained Success (GOLD)

Client Credits: Subaru Canada
Ted Lalka, Vice President, Product Planning & Marketing
Geoff Craig, Director of Advertising

Agency Credits: DDB Canada / Toronto
Michael Davidson, Senior VP & Business Unit Director
Geoff Taylor, Account Director
Andrew Simon, Creative Director
Matt Antonello, Associate Creative Director – Copywriter
Paul Riss, Associate Creative Director – Art Director
Andrew Schulze, Director of Broadcast Production
Dre Labre, Digital Creative Director
Ryan Semeniuk, Digital Art Director
Travis Sellar, Digital Copywriter
Cathy Kim, Digital Producer

Crossover Notes:
Crossover Notes: All winning cases contain lessons that cross over from one case to another. David Rutherford has been identifying these as Crossover Notes since CASSIES 1997. The full set for CASSIES 2012 can be downloaded from the Case Library section at

Crossover Note 3. Core Equity versus Price & Promotion.
Crossover Note 9. Turnarounds.
Crossover Note 12. Changing the Goalposts.
Crossover Note 20. Emotional versus Rational.
Crossover Note 25. Brand Linkage (when should the brand name appear).

To see creative, click on the links that are embedded in the case.


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):May 2008 – June 2011
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: May 12th, 2008
Base Period as a Benchmark: May 2007 – April 2008

a) Overall Assessment
In early 2008, Subaru was a niche player in the Canadian market with a stable but uninspiring 1% share. Its Japanese heritage was largely unknown (most people thought it was Korean) and its cornerstone nameplate, Forester, had seen declining sales for the best part of 10 years. People thought the Forester looked dated, and its quirky design meant that potential buyers didn’t know if it was an SUV or a station wagon. Consequently both sets of buyers were passing it by!

In early 2008 Subaru decided enough was enough and introduced a newly designed Forester.

The small Japanese SUV category is dominated by two giants, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota Rav4. In 2007, they controlled 70% of sales in the category. The Forester had a 2% share.

The revamped model was more attractive, stylish and looked more like a conventional SUV. So Subaru felt that they had a legitimate alternative for buyers seeking a small SUV. We were challenged to turn this into sustained sales for the next 3 years.

The company wanted to increase Forester’s sales by almost 50% for the 2009 model year, and set a platform for future growth through 2012. They believed that the newly designed vehicle would allow them to realize this aggressive ambition.

We were not so sure.

The new design was better than the old but in reality it was now only very similar to every other SUV. To truly stir desire we needed to find an emotional angle that would differentiate the brand. [Crossover Note 20]

In addition, the automotive industry spends over $800 million in measured media annually. Of that, Japanese manufacturers spend approximately $360 million (45% SOV). Subaru held a 1.4% overall SOV with just under $11.5 million, of which only $3.6 million was dedicated to media for the launch of the MY09 Forester.

And finally, Subaru maintained its premium/full margin price throughout the campaign. [Crossover Note 3]

b) Resulting Business Objectives
• +16% increase VYA of Forester sales during the campaign period of May and June 2008
• +47% VYA of Forester sales over the 12 months ending April 2009
• +9% VYA of overall Subaru sales over the 12 months ending April 2009
• +5% annual growth in succeeding years, despite no significant design changes

c) Annual Media Budget
$3 - $4 million

d) Geographic Area
National Canada

a) Analysis and Insight
When we saw the car we realized that although the new design leveled the playing field, it didn’t offer a significant visual design advantage. In reality it looked like most other small SUV’s. If we were to make a big impression on the car buying public, we would have to sell the sizzle, not just the steak. This meant some serious strategic thinking with two key components.

1. Through U&A research we found that our target didn’t know that Subaru was a Japanese manufacturer. When they were told about its origins, their opinions were immediately elevated, with increases in consideration and intent. We therefore agreed that we must clearly signal Subaru’s provenance -- but origin on its own wouldn’t be enough. We needed a juicy consumer insight.

2. This came from qualitative research conducted with our primary target: adults with young kids. They told us that having kids was joyous but traumatizing. While the act of raising children was rewarding, it also meant sacrifice -- particularly where cars were concerned. SUV’s were the logical and sensible choice for a family with young children, but the acquisition meant conformity and a loss of personal identity due to the ubiquity of the SUVs on offer.

b) Communication Strategy
We decided to answer their plea for something nonconformist by positioning the 2009 Forester as the antithesis of sensible. If our competitors were sensible we would be playful, fun and downright sexy. Our communication strategy was therefore:

Subaru Forester: the SEXIER Japanese SUV.

This was a big departure from competitors and the more rational way the Forester had previously been positioned. [Crossover Note 12] And it provided a consistent platform for growth through 3 model changes, several seasonal sales events and dealer advertising.

a) Media Used
- Television
- Print
- Online Banners
- Homepage
- Campaign Landing Page
- In-store POP
- Microsite
- In-video game
- Radio

b) Creative Discussion
We highlighted Subaru’s heritage by taking one of the icons of Japanese culture - Sumo wrestlers. Then we featured them in a variety of stereotypically sexy situations, all involving the new vehicle. [Crossover Note 25]

The launch campaign ran in May and June 2008. We launched on TV and YouTube with the archetypal sexy carwash scene – except ours featured Sumo wrestlers as opposed to bikini-clad babes. Our Sumos also found a home in magazines and newspapers in a series of sexy poses mirroring classic pin-ups.

But we didn't limit ourselves. We highlighted just how sexy the Forester was in online banners, and placed a sexy Sumo on virtual OOH billboards in various Xbox360 games -- a medium that our "dads with young kids" target were holding onto as a last gasp attempt to defy the tedium of responsible parenthood! A couple of special magazine executions added to the sexy imagery, including a simulated men’s magazine centerfold, featuring our sexy Sumo star.

Through all of this we directed people to, where they were handed a virtual camera and encouraged to be the photographer for the "2009 Subaru Forester Sexy Photo Shoot." Their challenge: to capture a sexy Sumo posing with the vehicle. And during their engagement we took the opportunity to highlight the Forester’s sexy new features. Consumers were also encouraged to select their favourite photos and submit them to a contest to win a high value digital photography kit. They were also able to show off their photography skills by forwarding their shots to friends.

Finally, consumers were greeted in dealerships with more sexy-Sumo imagery, including a life-sized Sumo cutout that introduced them to the new Forester.

The campaign was then extended into the future, where it helped launch the MY2011 Forester in 2010/11.

c) Media Discussion
We seeded the TV execution on YouTube a month prior to the official launch of the campaign on TV in May 2008. Newspaper supported the TV at launch along with online banner ads driving to

Magazines sustained the campaign well into November. Interestingly, in addition to the executions that we created, ELLE Canada produced a 4 page fashion editorial, all with the sexy Subaru Forester being used as a backdrop to haut couture (female) supermodels.

As noted above, we then extended the campaign into the future. This included a “Subaru Sexy Spring Savings” event in March – May 2009, and the “Sexy comes Standard” campaign that launched the MY2011 Forester.

a) Sales/Share Results
During the initial campaign flight (May and June 2008) showroom traffic was up +15%, and Subaru sold more than double (+132%) the units sold in the previous year. They even had to start backordering units for customers. [Crossover Note 9]

For May ’08 – April ’09 traffic to dealers was up +12%, and Subaru sold 7524 units -- more than double the number sold in the previous year (+115%).

Forester’s share of the segment grew to a record 11% over the launch, and this was instrumental in driving Subaru’s market share up to 1.5% by the end of April 2009.

Since the SEXY Sumo campaign launch in May 2008, the campaign has been maintained through the new model launches in 2010 and 2011 and several seasonal sales events as well as dealer advertising. “Sexy Comes Standard” continued the momentum for the launch the 2011 Forester and sales in 2011 are up +11% as of June, following increases in 2010 of +4% and + 37% in 2009. Total 2010 sales are almost 3 times the 3,033 Foresters sold in 2007 before the new campaign launched.

As for impact:

> The tracked recall levels of the “CarWash” television spot were the highest Millward Brown had ever seen, at 74%.

> It was viewed more than 850,000 times on YouTube through multiple postings, and was ranked the #1 automotive video on the web for two weeks during the initial launch flight.

> engaged over 225,000 absolute unique visitors for an average time of 2:51mins.

> Activation at the Toronto Autoshow was a roaring success, and made Subaru’s booth the busiest at the show in terms of visits. It garnered an earned media reach of over 1 million viewers on various news programs, including CP24 and City TV. It also generated social media buzz on Facebook and Flikr.

> Finally, the campaign garnered top editorial coverage in many news, automotive and marketing trade publications, including the Contagious Newsletter, and remarkably The New York Times.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion
In addition to the impact noted in the previous section, there were significant moves in key attitudinal metrics, as tracked by Millward Brown. These included Initial Consideration (up by +400%) and Purchase Intention (up by +83%). This was despite an initial launch media spend that was down -28% versus 2007 (in a category with industry spend down 19%). Since then Subaru has become a serious player in the Japanese Light Truck segment, with triple the share it had in 2007.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels: Budgets have been small when compared to the other spenders in the industry.

Pricing: We maintained Subaru's premium/full margin price and incentive levels not only for the launch, but also consistently for the past three years.

Distribution Changes: The number of Subaru dealerships has remained constant at approximately 90 dealers for several years, all dealers carry all models, and there has been no change in specific model distribution.

Unusual Promotional Activity: We have not offered any special consumer incentives (i.e. 0% lease/finance, $0 down, gas gift cards, etc.) as most other automotive manufacturers were (and still are) doing, despite the fact that the Forester pricing sits at roughly 10% higher than that of its direct competition.

Other Potential Causes: There were no other significant communications, sales or marketing efforts going on during the Forester campaign period.