Subaru of America, Inc. today announced the return of its annual Share the Love Event in 2018. Eleven years running, this year’s Share the Love event marks the third consecutive year there will be no cap placed on the total donation from Subaru of America to its Share the Love charitable partners. At the culmination of this year, Subaru hopes to exceed a grand total of $140 million donated since the Subaru Share the Love Event started in 2008.

From November 15, 2018 to January 2, 2019, Subaru will donate $250 for every new Subaru vehicle purchased or leased at more than 628 participating Subaru retailers nationwide to the customer’s choice of the following national charities: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), Make-A-Wish®, Meals on Wheels America® and National Park Foundation. Once again, Subaru retailers will also have the opportunity to add a local hometown charity for their customers to support.

“At Subaru, we and our retailers are passionate about using this platform to positively impact our local communities and the causes our owners care most about, simply because it is the right thing to do,” said Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing, Subaru of America Inc. “We look forward to making the 2018 Share the Love event an even greater success by supporting our national and local charity partners for the eleventh consecutive year and donating a grand total of $140 million by the end of this year’s event.”

In addition to the four national charity partners, Subaru retailers across the country have selected 681 local charitable organizations to support during this year’s Share the Love event. With some retailers adding their own donations to the hometown charities, total donations by Subaru and its participating retailers are expected to exceed previous years.

-by Jack Walsworth
CAMDEN, N.J. — Subaru of America is hooked on a feeling. That feeling is love, an emotion that has been a recurring theme in the Japanese automaker’s U.S. marketing since 2008, evolving and growing, just like the once-niche brand.In its latest TV commercial, Subaru is shifting the love theme from its products to the philanthropic efforts of its retailers.Named “We Call It Our Love Promise,” the 30-second clip shows various scenes of Subaru retailers working in their communities, whether fundraising or volunteering for causes. Subaru of America CEO Tom Doll is also shown at a Camden school event, where the automaker donated books to children.The commercial ends with “Love. It’s what makes Subaru, Subaru,” a subtle change to the automaker’s tag line of “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru,” the phrase introduced in a 2008 commercial that launched a new marketing era.

Outside of vehicles briefly seen on a dealership’s lot, there’s not a single Subaru featured in the spot — and that’s intentional, said Alan Bethke, Subaru’s senior vice president of marketing, during an interview at the brand’s U.S. headquarters here in July.

“There’s no cars, there’s no offer, there’s no incentive, there’s no comparison of our product against anybody else,” Bethke said. “There’s no traditional automotive trappings of any kind. It’s just designed to say, ‘You can love our brand, and you can love our retailers.’ Subaru’s Love Promise, says Bethke, is a companywide initiative tied to the community and customers. “We’re basically saying to the consumer, ‘At Subaru, we have a Love Promise. Our company has it, and our retailers have it,’ ” Bethke said. “And our promise is to do good and to make our touch points with our brand and with our customers’ experiences based on love. “The new commercial, which was to debut on TV last week, follows the footsteps of Subaru’s TV commercials for its Share the Love year-end sales event in 2016 and 2017, which didn’t show vehicles. Instead, they highlighted charities supported by donations from Subaru and its retailers.

Wally Sommer, president of Sommer’s Subaru in Mequon, Wis., and chairman of the Subaru National Retailer Advisory Board, is the first of nine retailers shown in the new ad.

“I think the commercial and the marketing really clearly delivers the message to the customer that Subaru is different and is trying to work in the communities through their retailers and trying to be, and I think succeeding, in being more than just a car company,” Sommer said. “That’s really come through over the past few years.”

Sommer’s store does volunteer work with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters, holds fundraising events for schools and supports other hands-on organizations.

More on the way
Bethke said more spots similar to the new one will follow, and Subaru plans to run the initial ad at different times throughout the year, meaning it won’t be a one-and-done commercial.

“You’re talking about millions and millions of media dollars on that spot,” Bethke said.Subaru worked with longtime agency Carmichael Lynch on the commercial. In a twist, Subaru used footage from videos tied to its Love Promise Retailer of the Year award, making the spot unscripted.

Bethke: Not a one-and-done ad

Bethke: “It should feel like a Subaru spot,” Bethke said. “It should feel similar. It should feel like it comes from the same place because we want it to. “While Bethke has risen through the ranks of Subaru’s advertising and marketing department since 2006, his resume is sales-heavy. He joined Subaru in 2003 as a district sales manager in Florida. Before Subaru, Bethke held advertising positions at American Suzuki after a stint as a district sales manager for the automaker. He was also once a district sales manager at Maytag.

Bethke acknowledged that the spot launches in what is traditionally a sales event month. August 2018 was Subaru’s third-best sales month of all time, for example. But he’s confident in the ad’s message and doesn’t see the shift of focus as a risk.

“For us, it’s just another way to say, ‘Well, Subaru does things differently,’ ” Bethke said. “The industry goes one direction; we go in another direction. “A glance at Subaru’s U.S. sales figures shows that the automaker’s rapid growth lines up with the introduction of the love campaign. Subaru’s decadelong streak of sales records began in 2009, when it sold 216,652 vehicles, a 2.1 percent market share.

But Bethke is the first to admit that the growth isn’t from love alone. “I don’t want to say it’s the only reason for growth,” he said. “That’s not accurate. “He credits the vehicles becoming the right size for the U.S. along with the introduction of better technology and sharper looks. An emphasis on keeping residual values high helped, too.

Last year, Subaru sold 680,135 vehicles in the U.S., good for a 3.9 percent market share. After another round of fresh product starting last year and continuing through 2019, the automaker is on track to reach its stated goal of 700,000 sales this year. And Subaru believes there is room to grow beyond that. “From the Crosstrek to the Ascent to the Forester to the Outback, we’ve had a very steady product introduction cadence with good product,” Jeff Walters, senior vice president of sales, told Automotive News. “Product that I think people are interested in. The branding resonates with people. I think when you combine those two things together, we’re going to get on more shopping lists.”

The foundation But adding love to the marketing strategy has simply helped the brand in what is its largest market. “Love is clearly the foundation of the company,” Bethke said. And Bethke doesn’t see love running out of favor anytime soon at Subaru, despite the marketing initiative being more than a decade old. “For us, with the brand owning love and being synonymous with love, we’re just saying, how do we take that, continue to own it and now just continue to expand it?” he said.

“I don’t see love going away. I only see it getting bigger and stronger. We started with just love of the car, and then it was love of the brand, and now it’s love of the retailer. All of those things just continued to grow and take more and more space.”