Safety First: 5 Questions With Subaru’s Brian Cavallucci


2018 Subaru Forester

Subaru is on a roll, posting record 2017 sales in the U.S. and anticipating the 2018 launch of its largest vehicle yet, the new eight-seater Ascent sport utility vehicle.

The brand has doubled sales in the American market in just five years, to nearly 650,000 units a year, putting its market share on a par with Hyundai’s. One reason for the brand’s growing success is that it largely has stuck with the core of the Subaru brand: an emphasis on safety, universal all-wheel drive and favoring utility vehicles over sedans, in keeping with its “Confidence in Motion” tagline.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of consumer and media interest in Ascent, which—already famously—is offering 19 cupholders and nearly twice as much towing capacity as Subaru’s popular Outback crossover wagon. Subaru dealers say many of their customers have been looking to move up to a large SUV, and its first such model, called Tribeca, flopped upon introduction in 2006 and was discontinued in 2014.

But first, Subaru is kicking off the new year with a campaign that celebrates the naming of 2018 Forester SUV (at top) as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, yet another safety laurel for the brand. It also begins planting seeds for the launch later this year of a new Forester model.

The first TV spot in the campaign, titled “Life Story On the Line” is narrated in the first person as viewers follow a woman’s life from birth to meeting her future husband, having kids, getting in a car accident—and living to continue her life’s journey.

As Subaru describes it,

The road of life is filled with twists and turns. But not all of them are welcome. This cinematic commercial follows the life of one woman from birth to marriage to becoming the mother of twin boys. Until one night, when her life story nearly comes to a very sudden stop, and she is reminded why so many parents choose a Subaru Forester to help protect their families.

The 30- and 60-second ads also are shot from an interesting perspective, sort of like what you’d see if you peered out the rear window of a car moving down the middle of a street or road.

Brian Cavallucci - Subaru“That line in the middle of the road is looking back on your life through the rear window of a car,” Brian Cavallucci (right), national advertising manager for Subaru of America, told brandchannel. “You see these little vignettes—and as you see them, the camera pans back to being inside the car with the mom and dad and boys, and everyone is OK.”

brandchannel talked with Cavallucci about the Forester campaign and the Subaru safety coda.

Brian, why run a campaign highlighting safety, now?

Safety is really important to the brand and we focus on it from an engineering standpoint and a brand standpoint. And it’s important to customers as well. So having good creative that speaks to that in an emotional way has served Subaru well.

We actually saw this idea from our agency Carmichael Lynch a few years ago and we sat on it and waited to make it until the right time came.

We try to tell emotional stories in different ways as it relates to safety. We brought this back for Forester because it’s a high purchase consideration driver for that segment, and we just felt like it was the right time for that message and car and where we are as a brand.

We worked with Lance Acord, an amazing director, and production company Park Pictures, with whom we’ve worked in the past, and he brought a very different visual of approaching the commercial. He helped us to bring together a bit (and) to do it visually in a different way.

Is the woman in the campaign based on a true story?

Not per se. Any time we do commercials like this we get a lot of letters from owners. They’ll send us pictures of their cars that are completely mangled, for example, and “we came out of it with only bumps and bruises.” We get a lot of letters from owners. Sometimes we post them on our Facebook wall or send them into our call center. [The ads are] representative of stories that we’ve heard from our owners.

Some of your recent TV commercials [“Take the Subaru” and “I’m Sorry”] featured parents having peace of mind because their kids were driving their Subarus. Does this new safety-oriented ad represent an evolution or a departure?

It’s an evolution. We’re approaching the spot differently with the camera moving backward through your life. There is a really old Subaru and an old Outback at the wedding scene and then the crash, a Forester, and then the ad puts you inside a new one. It’s a similar storytelling approach, about someone’s life, but an evolution in the approach.

How important is safety today for the Subaru brand?

It ranks very high for people in our owner base or people in general who are shopping. It’s important to a segment of people buying small or mid-size SUVs, and it’s something that as a brand we can deliver on. Our products deliver safety. We prioritize it from an engineering standpoint and highlighting it in our advertising lets people know it’s important. They recognize Subaru for safety.

How are you planning to launch the new Forester later this year?

This one will be tough to beat. We’re working on that now. That car will be great. We did like using this spot to kind of lead-in to that next one, and that’s another reason why the timing was right. Safety will be a key factor in that launch. But the poeple  who buy that car are active singles, couples and young families, and we’re going to try to portray that as well. Safety is important—but not the only thing that’s important—and space for dogs, too.

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