Back to Basics: Subaru Restructures, Searches for New Marketing Chief

NEW YORK – In an attempt to live up to its two-year-old ad theme, ‘What to Drive,’ Subaru of America announced a restructuring last week that includes a search for a marketing pro that can right Subaru’s listing image.
George Muller, who had been an executive vp, is assuming the position of president, replacing executive vp Chuck Worrell, who is retiring, as the senior American executive. Muller, who is trained in finance, acknowledged that Subaru has let its image wander from its core values.
‘We’ve gotten sidetracked over the past few years and have tried to be all things to all consumers,’ said Muller in a statement. ‘We’ve lost our identity and are not satisfied with what we’ve become.’
The decision on the new vp/marketing who will help shape Subaru’s future still looks far off. Several sources said that the client had only just hired a consultant to conduct a search to replace Chris Wackman, the former marketing chief who was forced out.
For a time Subaru wanted to shed its niche image and become a mainstream choice, but observers believe it hasn’t had the financial wherewithall to support that marketing objective.
The executive who takes charge of marketing at Subaru, said Subaru executives, will guide the company back to its core image of a four-wheel-drive, alternative-choice vehicle, an image it all but abandoned in the late 1980s. As one executive put it, ‘We used to be kind of like Jeep, and we have to find the Jeepness again.’
Muller specifically said Subaru’s marketing had become too ‘fragmented,’ a reference to the apparently unsuccessful launch of the new Impreza, for which Subaru shop Wieden & Kennedy/Philadelphia produced more than 10 different commercials, including a poorly rated set of teaser ads that ran on the Super Bowl – a costly mistake given Subaru’s limited ad budget of about $75 million.
Whoever joins as the new marketer will have a good deal to say about Subaru’s ad assignment, since neither Muller nor Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries are known to have strong ties to the agency. One immediate option might be for Dentsu America, which recently began exploring ‘promotion’ opportunities with Subaru, to play a bigger role.
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