The Pride in Subaru’s Marketing

Jun 18, 2019

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, now commemorated every year with LGBTQ Pride Month. What started as local celebrations and demonstrations of support for LGBTQ culture has turned into a month-long media juggernaut.

Brands of all shapes and sizes have created campaigns and new products in support of Pride Month.

But decades before any company was rolling out rainbow-themed packaging for June, one automaker used market research and smart messaging to build a devoted customer base within the LGBTQ community.

Subaru Uncovers a Core Demographic

In the mid-90s, Subaru had a branding problem. Its fleet had a reputation for being “sturdy, if drab” and it was losing to other big automakers in sales among the biggest car-buying demographics.

So it shifted its strategy. It doubled down on its key differentiator – all-wheel drive. It conducted focus groups on in places like Northampton, MA, and Portland, OR, and found four main groups were responsible for half of Subaru’s U.S. sales — teachers and educators, healthcare professionals, IT professionals and “rugged individualists.” Market researchers started talking to customers and discovered many of them were lesbians.

In fact, lesbians were four times more likely than the other car shoppers to buy a Subaru.

To attract this demographic, the company created an ad campaign that reflected the political climate of the time with tongue-in-cheek LGBTQ references.

Image via Marketing the Rainbow.

Even so, the campaign was a gamble. “I can’t emphasize enough that this was before there was any positive discussion [of LGBT issues],” Subaru Director of Advertising Tim Bennett told Priceonomics.

That gamble paid off. Sales increased, and in the 2010s, only Tesla grew faster than Subaru. The Subaru brand is so strong, its parent company rebranded the entire company to fall under the Subaru name.

A Marketing Campaign with Commonsense Courage

Today’s LGBTQ marketing owes a debt to Subaru. Pride month promotions support the growing trend of consumers seeking out brands that match their personal values. But it’s still a risk. Consumers may hold different values, and it’s an invitation to look for inconsistencies in the causes a company supports and its stated mission and values.

With its ad campaign, Subaru took a bold step. Its commonsense courage has led to countless loyal customers.

Long story short: Good marketing goes beyond chasing buzzworthy trends. It means doing the research and creating inclusive messaging that speaks to an engaged and underserved audience. If you find a niche audience that loves your brand, don’t be afraid to go after them.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alex Irwin.

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