So a Subaru might not be “What to Drive” after all, at least from an agency’s perpective." data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" >

Subaru hits the road By Cathy Taylo

So a Subaru might not be “What to Drive” after all, at least from an agency’s perpective.

On Friday, Subaru of America divorced Wieden & Kennedy, spurning its second agency partner in two years. The move only reinforced sentiment that the car company, once a cult favorite, is now best known for its ongoing identity crisis.
The automaker hasn’t even committed itself to holding another agency review. According to Subaru’s director of advertising and marketing Mark Dunn, “We haven’t made a decision yet on how to proceed on this.” Agency co-founder Dan Wieden confirmed that the shop had six months until the termination of the contract–twice the industry standard–and said the shop was still committed to moving the needle on Subaru sales. “We intend to be very professional about it,” he said.
The blow has already resulted in staff reductions at the agency. review. According to Subaru’s director of advertising and marketting Mark Dunn, “We haven’t made a decision yet on how to proceed on this.” Agency co-founder Dan Wieden confirmed that the shop had six months until the termination of the contract–twice the industry standard-and the shop was still committed to moving the needle on Subaru sales. “We intend to be very professional about it,” he said.
The blow has already resulted in the staff reductions at the agency.
Wieden said that 11 people were laid off in Philadelphia last week, but that the shop was currently pitching some business that could help replace the loss. “We are not stung by the automotive category,” he continued. “We’d like to be back in.”
However, the shop’s recent string of account wins–including ESPN and YM magazine in Philadelphia and Jockey underwear as well as the reported win of The Gap in Portland–can’t begin to make up for the loss of a $100-million account.
As far as Subaru is concerned, it finds itself with no ad agency, no review in the works and no announcement yet on its new vp/ marketing (ADWEEK, July 12). Therefore, the news Friday only fueled speculation that the account would move directly to Dentsu America, which had competed for the account in the 1991 review that was won by Wieden. Dentsu, which has talked to Subaru in recent months about promotional work (ADWEEK, May 24), has often been said to be favored by Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s Japanese parent.
Asked if Dentsu would move in on promotional work, Dunn said, “We haven’t actually done any programs with Dentsu . . . They’d be one perhaps that we would talk to. But there’s no definitive answer.”
Other sources have speculated that Lord, Dentsu & Partners, which was hired to handle Mazda’s terminated Amati line, would be in line for the account. However, the relationship between Ford and Young & Rubicam, which owns half of Lord, Dentsu, might pose a conflict.
In terms of the decision to fire Wieden and redirect its marketing efforts, Subaru’s sales figures speak for themselves. In the two months after the automaker’s new Impreza was launched with an ambitious teaser campaign in January’s Super Bowl, the automaker sold little more than 8,500 Imprezas, an amount that couldn’t come close to supporting the $100 million that Subaru pumped into advertising in 1993. Sales of the Legacy model have been languishing as well.
In recent weeks, the usually slow-moving Subaru has made ever more visible
attempts to right itself. “The marketplace is very dynamic and you need to move quickly,” said Dunn of the decision to fire W&K, which came earlier than many industry observers had expected. Two weeks ago, the company announced that Chuck Worrell, the executive vp/ sales and marketing would retire and that another Subaru vet, George Muller, would become president. Said Muller at the time, “We’ve lost our identity and are not satisfied with what we’ve become.”
But as Subaru has cast about trying to find itself, it has taken ad agencies down with it. The review that saw W&K win the business in 1991 resulted in the eventual shuttering of Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver, six months after the account went to Wieden.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)