|Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.|
Good commercials give viewers reasons to buy—or RTBs—the product or service being advertised. These RTBs can range from facts like “the best mileage in its class” to assertions like “the best-looking car on the road,” but they all summarize why their product is unique/better. The trick, of course, is to match the RTB to the prospects’ sensibilities. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many ads fail this test.
For several years now, Subaru has been promoting a very ethereal yet highly motivating RTB: love. They’re hardly the first car company to try this. Mercedes plowed a big ol’ pile of dough into their “The Love Never Fades” campaign in the mid-2000s, and Volvo explored the concept way back in the ’80s with their ubiquitous “I Love My Volvo” bumper stickers. Subaru, on the other hand, is trying to own love in its entirety by building its campaign around the line, “Love. It’s What Makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
“Cut the Cord” is the latest example. In it, a father anxiously and tenderly sends his young daughter off on her first day of school. He reassures her with messages of encouragement and love, but after she bravely climbs aboard the bus he gets into his Legacy and drives alongside it, stopping only when he sees that she’s laughing and obviously happy. His voiceover copy says, “I’m overly protective. That’s why I bought a Subaru.” Then another voice gives the love line and we cut to a super with the Subaru logo and the words Confidence in Motion. The accompanying music adds a relevant touch of melancholy.
For the right target audience, this is a great commercial. It takes an emotionally charged rite of passage and milks it for all it’s worth, with phenomenal casting, acting, and directing. The expression on the girl’s face after Daddy asks her if she’s excited about her first day isn’t merely perfect, it’s extraordinary. And the actor who plays the father nails an extremely difficult role with just the right blend of freewheeling angst and stiff upper lip. The director’s ability to make this story look real also is noteworthy; in the wrong hands, the spot could have been a big pile of steaming treacle. But it’s not.
It’s a masterful vignette, designed to strike a very specific chord with car buyers for whom emotional identity is more important than product features. They could have cited the crash ratings or a laundry list of safety features, but they didn’t. All they had to do was show an overly protective father, just as Subaru’s “Kid Wash” commercial (where two boys wash the interior of the family Legacy with toothpaste and running water) shows an overly forgiving father and its “Moral Support” spot (where a guy drives his Subaru along a bike race route to cheer on his wife) shows an overly supportive husband. The message is, if you’re this kind of person, Subaru is your kind of car. Sappy? You bet. Effective? Well, last year marked Subaru’s fourth consecutive year of sales growth, so the answer is “yes.”
· Long-Term Test: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium Hatchback
· Instrumented Test: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
· Car vs. Road: 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited vs. France’s Route Napoléon
The chances of a commercial like this getting me to buy a car are zero. But I’m not Subaru’s target audience and never will be, so it doesn’t matter. My sister, on the other hand, is. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, loves dogs, and has a cabin in the mountains. The XV Crosstrek would be a perfect choice for her family. My sister is quite intelligent and is not a frivolous woman, yet last month she e-mailed to tell me that she had seen a Subaru commercial (“Best Friend”) with a chocolate lab. Here’s the direct quote: “I LOVED that commercial! Our next car is going to be a Subaru!” To which I replied, “Just based on that commercial?” To which she replied, “That dog was sooooo cute!”
Looks like John and Paul were right—all you need is love.
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