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Love: Does It Change Everything?

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Considering the Japanese automaker has changed taglines and agencies numerous times in the last decade, you might be wondering what "makes a Subaru a Subaru." Turns out it's a four-letter word: love.

In its first campaign for the brand, Carmichael Lynch has merely appended the previous agency's tagline with what makes the world go 'round.

I give the CL folks credit for hanging on to the DDB phrase. By providing some continuity it shows they're putting the brand ahead of ego. This will be a multimedia campaign, although only the TV spots and a print ad were ready for review at press time. The TV work is solid, kindhearted, old-school stuff -- with a karmic twist. It will certainly appeal to those already enchanted with the brand. The question is if it's too mild to convert those who ain't feelin' it.

The strongest spots are the ones based on true stories. "Welcome Party" is about the Brotherhood of the Traveling Outbackers (my name for them), four siblings who usher in each New Year by traveling to the easternmost point of the U.S. (in their trusty Outback, natch.) It's a beautifully shot and produced spot. But it's all a little too vague: Where is this easternmost point anyway? Also, we've seen this guys-building-a-fire, sleeping-in-their-car bit before, and with the host of rugged, four-wheel-drive options out there, the trip doesn't necessarily scream Subaru.

"Subaru Heaven" features a more Subaru-specific ritual and is easily the best of the bunch. (Hold on, just wiping a tear. Seriously.) To a heartstring-plucking score, we see two cars following each other on an empty road at dusk until they get to what looks like an automotive cemetery, all natural and beautiful, no urban blight, junkyard dogs or chain-link fences in sight.

It even offers subtle visual hints, shaded as it is by a big tree that suggests the Six Feet Under logo, the HBO series about a family-run funeral home.

"Two days of driving. Larry following me all the way in the new one. We round a corner and there it is: Subaru Heaven. You don't let some wrecker haul your 300,000-mile Forester off to who knows where. You give that car a chance to live on, one part at a time."

The commercial is visually gorgeous. Even the green replacement door on the dirty beige Forester looks beautiful, like an old Buick on a sun-washed street in Cuba.

It turns out that Subaru owners do this in real life, and there's no doubt that the series humanizes the car -- maybe too much. Given all the care this guy took to get the reliable old clunker to its final parking place, we feel awful when he leaves it and rides off with Larry in his shiny new version. (This reminds me of the Avis campaign that uses the bitter voices of cars left behind at airports and in parking lots who imagine their owners are out joyriding with cheap young rentals. Still, the spots suffer from the same unintended consequence as the award-winning Ikea lamp spot: You feel more for the discarded oldie but goodie than the gleaming replacement.)

There's a touch of humor in "Not for Sale." Promoting the fact that this is the first redesign of the Forester in nine years, it's all about a loyal family man and Forester owner making room for his new, bigger, better Forester. All the action takes place in the circular driveway of a one-garage McMansion. The joke (umm, not so much) is that in the end, the guy can't part with the old model, so the family boat is kicked to the curb. Meanwhile, the "Who's on first?" jockeying in and out of the garage and around the circular driveway gets a bit dizzying.

The problem with "Priorities," about a busy dad who finally makes time to take his plane-loving son to an airfield (in a Subaru Tribeca) is that it tilts from earnest and beautiful to saccharine and clich