Subaru: The “Be Who You Are Car” Sees Strong Reputational Gains


It’s no wonder Subaru is the fastest riser of the US top 100 most reputable companies of 2018, jumping 236 spots in the rankings to #45.

In the past year, Subaru increased its sales by 6.4% through Q3 marking the most significant rise in the Top 10-selling U.S. brands. And Subaru accomplished this while the automobile industry saw an 11% decline.

Subaru has seen eight consecutive years of sales increases, doubling their car sales within the past year. Subaru’s audience purchase intent says it all: their love for Subaru is manifesting itself as growing demand. And our data confirms the company’s reputational gains.

Subaru’s reputation scores soar

In Reputation Institute’s annual US RepTrak® 100, Subaru saw the highest increase in pulse score above all companies overall, at 5.9 points. This is especially impressive, as these 2018 scores showed nationwide company trends averaging a decline of 3.0 pulse points; Subaru’s increase was 8.9 points higher than the US Top 100 average.

Subaru saw lifts across all reputation dimensions, with the biggest increase in products and services (+9.5 points) bringing it into the excellent range with a total score of 81.1, out of 100.

Subaru saw substantial increases for critical drivers in corporate social responsibility (CSR), such as workplace (+6.8) and citizenship (+6.9), but also experienced gains in product-related drivers, like performance (+5.5) and innovation (+6.6), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Subaru Pulse and Dimension Scores 2017 vs. 2018


Subaru’s increase in scoring directly correlates to increased support. Our data shows that 49% of surveyors would buy a Subaru, jumping 9% from last year. And 51% of respondents would welcome Subaru to their neighborhood, climbing 7% from 2017.

How is Subaru able to increase growth, reputation, and supportive behavior?

These trends did not occur overnight. To understand, we must look back to Subaru’s intentional brand shift during the early 1990s. Before the shift, Subaru’s sales were struggling, and the leadership team hired an ad agency that flopped, marketing Subaru as a luxury car—which it wasn’t.

Feeling hopeless, the executives decided to listen and learn from the consumers who made up half of Subaru’s sales at the time: teachers, health care professionals, IT professionals, outdoorsy types—and lesbians.

These core groups liked Subaru for its reliability, humility, and durability in harsh conditions. Subarus fit their active lifestyles and weren’t flashy. Subaru executives set up focus groups, talking extensively to these audiences, and decided to initiate a very intentional “love campaign,” tying Subaru’s product image to messages of pride, acceptance, personal fulfillment, and independence.

Subaru ads shown below include slogans like “love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru,” boldly embracing their new purpose and vision. At the time, this was a groundbreaking campaign, it was a radical promotion of marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights in America, long before such advertising was mainstream.

Fast forward to 2018 and Subaru continues to promote its views as a brand. Alan Bethke, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, says love comes in many forms: “love of the product, love of the brand and love of what Subaru means.”

In current ads, Subaru often won’t even show cars, and instead, only emotions. Last year, Subaru celebrated their 10th anniversary of their “Share the Love” campaign, where Subaru makes a $250 donation in a customer’s preferred organization, totaling over $115 million in donations over the entirety of the campaign.

subaru ads.png

In these turbulent times, as companies are thrust into the spotlight to take political and often controversial stands, Subaru’s messages of love, acceptance, and pride will continue to stay relevant. A brand is more than the product it sells: it is a company with a set of values.

Reliability, dependability, and performance are not what makes Subaru a Subaru— instead—it is love. As the highest-ranking car company in the top 100 most reputable this year, Subaru has done what other automobile companies have not: sold intangibles.


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