Subaru: Swimming With the Fish?

May 14, 2011
Upon waking from a deep sleep, my instinctive reaction was to ignore my children that federal law and society legally require me to love and provide for, and grab the remote control and channel surf. It was Saturday after all. And what do I get? Fishing shows galore. On two sports channels, fishing in Alaska. Pike and salmon. On PBS, fishing for river trout. On the local entertainment network, all about giant carp. Looks like programming said swimming with the fish is the way to go on Saturday morning. Can’t anyone be different and give me entertainment I want?

Which makes me think of Subaru.

See, Subaru has always gone its own way when it comes to cars. Rarely a dull automotive moment, so to speak. Not just the all-wheel-drive bit, but the boxer engines, the sometimes weird styling, and the general product palette. Remember the Subaru XT coupe? Had anemic engines, a very aerodynamic body (0.29 cd), and weird steering wheel. There was the SVX, the luxo-sports coupe with the powerful flat-six engine and the weird canopy design of the roof. And let’s not forget the hideous schnoz of the ill-named B9 Tribeca SUV. To be fair, Subaru has made less contentious and yet great cars - pick any WRX, be it an STI or not, or any Outback, or Legacy wagon GT (six-speed + turbo!!), even the ancient Brat, which I loved.

Subaru cars had been like a multi-colored school of all-wheel-drive fish. This wasn't a mainstream kind of car company. Yet, swimming against the current has served them well enough. However, recently they decided to make cars that appealed to the lots of people, not just snow-bound folks. More conventional styling, same AWD that everybody now has copied, much better interiors, and they are even catching up on the engine technology front - direct injection and displacement downsizing on the new Impreza.

However, Subaru’s advertising messages have rarely struck a chord or wowed the people in a consistent manner. They tried to the do the performance thing, then the AWD thing, and a few other forays into interesting avenues (did you see the ‘sexy sumo wrestlers’ ads in Canada?) And in the '90s in North America, the Paul Hogan ads did have some resonance for a while. But that’s it.

So what does Subaru do now? They are doing two things for North America: 1) Pounding the all-wheel-drive message at every turn, and 2) using some cute humor to do. so Witness the newest campaign, Pete, the world's worst weatherman. In short, weather predictions are often wrong, so having an AWD Subaru will shield you from the elements and the associated misery. Pete is always wrong, he knows as much about weather as I know about astrophysics. He’s sort of like Miles from Murphy Brown, just more sympathetic.

The ads are short for the most part, less than 30 seconds. So you can watch a bunch of them and not get too overwhelmed. Pete is instantly likable and cutely incompetent. It makes for a nice juxtaposition in each commercial to the competency of Subaru’s AWD advantage. Will it make you want to mock your local weatherman? Will this lead to massive sales? Will you flee to a Subaru dealership out of fear of what the weather will bring? Subaru hopes so. Good luck Pete.

[Automotive News]



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