Subaru is bringing sexy (sumos) back

February 22, 2011  |  Eve Lazarus  |  Comments

Subaru has brought back its sexy sumo wrestlers in a campaign for the 2011 Forester.

Todd Mackie, co-creative director at DDB Toronto, said the 2009 campaign thatfirst featured the unforgettable image of sumos in a water fight changed many people’s perceptions that the Forester was a boxy car. It drove home the message that it is Japanese manufactured, helped triple sales and moved the market share from 4% to 11%, he said.

Despite those strong numbers, Ted Lalka, vice-president, product planning and marketing at Subaru, said research revealed that a lot of people had not seen the previous campaign and still held the perception that the Forester was an unusual, “boxy” station wagon vehicle.

“When we showed them a picture of the current Forester with its styling, they’d say ‘Oh that’s not what I thought it looked like, this actually looks quite nice’,” he said. “The fact that it is designed, engineered and built by a Japanese company gave them the impression that there was reliability, durability and quality built into all the vehicles.”

In the television ad that launched last week, sumo wrestlers seductively wash cars and lounge on the hoods of Foresters. Print executions see Byamba, a 350-pound champion sumo wrestler, eating an ice-cream with his leg propped up on a tire. Byamba also appears as the Sunshine boy in the Toronto Sun this month, and online in flash banners developed by Tribal DDB. Byamba is also making an appearance at the Toronto Auto Show this month and will have his picture taken with attendees.

The tag line is “Sexy comes standard.” OMD handled the media buy.

Mackie said the campaign strategy is to get the Forester on the same consideration list as the two most popular selling small SUVs–the Toyota Rav4 and the Honda CR-V, which currently have about 70% of the market.

“We want to find those people who are in the buying cycle and give them a third, very credible option,” said Mackie. “[The message] is really simple. We want people to know that Subaru is a Japanese car company and they have a sexy small SUV.”

Dealer buy-in is also hugely important, said Lalka, and Subaru dealers have responded positively to the campaign.

“If they are enthusiastic about it, it gets a life of its own,” he said. “When we introduced it a few years ago the dealers got so excited about it, they bought inflatable sumo costumes.”

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