Subaru doesn’t need cars for holiday boost

A scene from a Subaru TV commercial for the ASPCA, one of the charities Subaru supports through “Share the Love”

LOS ANGELES — For the second year in a row, Subaru of America’s year-end marketing event doesn’t include its vehicles.

“Share the Love,” the automaker’s signature sales event, is now in its 10th year. The basis is simple. The automaker donates $250 to charity for each vehicle sold between Nov. 16 and Jan. 2.

And that’s the message.

Customers can choose from four national charities that are highlighted in the ads: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Meals on Wheels and National Park Foundation.

Some Subaru dealerships have partnered with local charities and donations can be directed to those instead.

In the cold, hard world of moving metal at year end, an outsider might wonder what Subaru is thinking.

Bethke: “A way to connect”

“Subaru has always found success by being different,” Alan Bethke, Subaru of America’s senior vice president of marketing, told Automotive News on the sidelines of the auto show here last month. “At this time of year, you can turn on your TV and every ad you see is basically the same. They’re all snow or Santa or bows.”

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Last year, seeking to push the envelop on its “different-ness” and keep the campaign fresh, Subaru removed something from its “Share the Love” ads. Its products.

“All of our creative last year focused exclusively on the charity and the people being helped and their need — and not on a car,” Bethke said. “There wasn’t a Subaru at all in any ‘Share the Love’ creative. And this year, the same thing.”

Dispensing with its products didn’t hurt. The brand sold 63,177 vehicles in the United States in December last year, the best month in its history until August 2017’s sales of 63,215 units.

Prior to “Share the Love” a decade ago, Subaru ran sales event ads that focused on traditional points, such as vehicles, features and pricing.

The campaign was a product of Subaru and ad agency Carmichael Lynch’s “Love” campaign, which had recently launched.

Subaru forecasts it will donate between $23 million and $24 million this year.

It did take a while for Subaru’s retailers to warm up to the nonproduct marketing approach, Bethke said.

“When you say, ‘Hey, we’re going completely opposite of the industry,’ it was hard for them to swallow,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on a holiday sales event.

“But over time, that’s completely changed. They’ve seen the success, they’ve felt the difference the company’s making, and now they have their own hometown charity that they get to select. A lot of them are adding additional donations on top of the money that Subaru is donating.”

Bethke believes when people hear about “Share the Love,” it creates an impression of what kind of company Subaru is.

“We think that’s been a nice way to connect with people,” he said. “Maybe they’re not in market to buy a car. Maybe they never thought about Subaru in the past. It’s a way to start to say ‘Hey, Subaru cares about the things I care about.’ ”