When it comes to protecting kids, Subaru proves parents would rather laugh than cry

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The brand has released two very different spots about kids and safety. Not surprisingly, the audience has a favorite, says Ace Metrix

Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Of course, she wasn’t talking about advertising, but in our current environment of ad avoidance, the words are apropos.

For brands, making consumers feel something is more crucial than ever. Subaru, in part through a longstanding alignment with one of the simplest and most universal themes of all, "love," has been a trailblazer in this area since 2007. That was when the brand’s new agency, Carmichael Lynch, made the most minor of tweaks to the slogan "It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru," adding the word "love" up front. Ever since, love has been the brand’s recurring motif.

Over the years we’ve seen incredibly emotive Subaru ads, filled with slice-of-life moments driven by an underlying promise of safety: parents and newborns, fathers and daughters, moms and sons, and adventurers on the open road. The brand has found a way to consistently deliver messages that are true to its core tenets and resonate with its target, and has done it successfully more often that not. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I say this is not easy to do. 

Last week, Subaru launched two spots, both effective, with very different vibes. "I’m Sorry" packs an emotional punch, portraying the moment when a parent receives a phone call that his or her teenager has been in an accident. "Take the Subaru" presents a likeable, humorous approach to safety, with parents putting the kybosh all kinds of unsafe activities that their children are attempting; that is, until one says he’s taking out the Subaru. The message is the same, that parents can feel better knowing they’ve put their kids behind the wheel of a Subaru. But the delivery couldn’t be more different.

Both ads land in the top 20% of all "Love. It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru." ads tested by Ace Metrix since 2010 (over 130 ads). "Take the Subaru" has a higher overall Ace Score (628 vs. 591), though both score above the Non-Luxury Auto category norm. Not surprisingly, both ads performed even better among parents. "I’m Sorry" was more successful at grabbing attention and evoking strong feelings, but its overall score was driven down because it’s difficult to watch. One female 50+ viewer commented, "I found the ad to be a bit disturbing and depressing, but given the nature of the ad I think that's not surprising. As a parent, this ad really struck home to my concerns for my children."

The Ad Personality graphics below demonstrate the different way each ad affected viewers. Both were found to be relatable, with "Take the Subaru" being a much more likeable ad. Again, we see the tradeoff: humor and enjoyment vs. grabbing attention and high emotion – different means to an end, with both messages being true to the brand.

Ad Personality "I’m Sorry," Ad Personality "Take the Subaru"

Viewers of both ads recognize the Message as the Single Best Thing about the ad, followed by the Visual Scenes and the Brand. A female 50+ viewer of "I’m Sorry" said, "Very visual but tears at you emotionally regarding life and your family and the safety of your vehicle."

In the emotional word clouds below, derived by correlating words in viewer comments with each emotional lens, we see the intensity of one and the lightheartedness of the other.

Emotional Word Cloud "I’m Sorry," Emotional Word Cloud  "Take the Subaru"                                                                                     

Demonstrating that Subaru is reaching its target with "I’m Sorry," here is what some parents had to say:

  • "This ad also grabbed my attention right away. It is so close to home. Both my girls are now driving, my youngest just this past month." – F36-49

  • "I absolutely loved this ad. If Subaru truly feels like this then they have earned a new customer. – F36-49

  • "This ad pulls at your heart right away. The car accident scenes are chilling and keeps your interest to continue watching the commercial" – M36-49

Subaru has shown that it knows its audience and can find multiple ways to make them feel something. It is this type of engaging creative that will make viewers stop and watch ads. Personally, I rarely change the channel when there is a Subaru ad on, especially one with a father-daughter theme.