Media Post

The 'Barkleys' Keep Subaru in the Game

Published on February 2nd, 2016

Subaru is back in the Bowl. The Puppy Bowl, that is. For the sixth year, Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Subaru of America is playing counterpoint to big pigskin by sponsoring the Feb. 7 Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. With that come five new TV ads featuring the Barkleys, a family of golden retrievers — real dogs, not the talking CGI type — who drive Subarus and live a canine’s life in the suburbs.

The Barkleys, under the “Dog Tested. Dog Approved” banner launched in 2009, first drove onto TV in 2013. The first three ads in the campaign, by Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, debuted during coverage of the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 30.

In one of the spots, a Barkley drives around the neighborhood with his (or her) puppy in the child’s seat to get the puppy to fall asleep. Which works until they pull into the driveway and kill the ignition. A spot touting smartphone connectivity has Siri misinterpreting the dogs’ barking. When dad barks, she thinks it’s for “roof repair.” When mom barks, she says, “Sure, I can call Ralph.” Finally, the puppy in the back barks, and she says, “Looking up vacation rentals in St. Barths.”

In a third, mom and dad take the Forester out for parents’ night out to a nice Italian place, after which they sit at the curb with doggie bags, waiting for the valet, who pulls up with a screech, rock music booming from the speakers. Down goes the window and we see that the valet is a cat. In addition to all of the other features, the ads call out Subaru’s most famous point of difference (besides the boxer engine under the hood): symmetrical all-wheel drive.

Said Alan Bethke, VP marketing at Subaru of America, in a statement: “Subaru and its customers have a deep connection to pets. Eight out of 10 Subaru owners are pet owners, and our brand continues to support the causes and initiatives that our customers care about,” said Bethke. That isn’t really hyperbole. Subaru is unique in the auto business in that its brand position and marketing is aligned closely to its cause efforts, under its “Subaru Love Promise.”

Subaru has made something close to agape a central idea around what attracts a special person to the brand, almost since Carmichael Lynch became AOR in 2007. A year later Subaru launched “Love. It’s What Makes a Subaru a Subaru,” and since then has made “love” a strategic lode star for all of its work, including its yearly “Share the Love” campaign, in which it donates a portion of each sale to a charity chosen from a short list by the buyer. Tim Mahoney, who then was CMO at Subaru of America, and is now global CMO at Chevrolet and marketing operations leader at GM, said the campaign was inspired by letters from owners, who evinced an unusual passion for the brand.

The automaker, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, posted an all-time U.S. sales record last year, with 582,675 vehicles sold, a 13.4% lift over 2014. December was the company’s best month ever, after 49 months of year-over-year monthly increases.  The brand certainly benefited from sustained interest in crossovers, with strong sales of vehicles like Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek.

But given the nature of the brand, too much of a good thing might not be too good. Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Fuji Heavy, has acknowledged that the kind of niche appeal that allows for unique campaigns like the Barkleys could be ruined if the brand just becomes another volume player.

Read the article on MediaPost here.