5 Things We Learned From Subaru’s ’90s LGBTQ Ads
Priceonomics posted “How an Ad Campaign Made Lesbians Fall In Love With Subaru” a brilliant article exploring the car maker’s push to capitalize on their popularity with lesbians. While we highly recommend reading the entire piece — it’s fascinating — we thought we’d share our favorite lessons.
1. Support LGBTQ Icons
When tennis legend Martina Navratilova was outed, she found it hard to find endorsement work. In an interview, she said Madison Avenue felt gay athletes couldn’t be out to properly sell things. Subaru came to the rescue, and Navratilova became the face of the company — because she was out. Queer consumers saw that, and embraced the carmaker even more.
2. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Subaru realized if they just put gay shoutouts in their ads, people would see through their pandering in an instant. They needed to show they actually cared about the LGBTQ community — and they did. They contributed millions to HIV research along with other causes. They made sure to support their queer employees, too.
On the other hand, other companies that saw Subaru’s success with the LGBTQ market tried similar ad campaigns — but they only focused on upper-class white communities, and the stench of commodification was ripe, and they weren’t nearly as successful.
3. Haters Gonna Hate
Of course, there was some pushback from the troglodytes, homophobes and everyone else on the wrong side of history. There was a grassroots campaign to send letters condemning Subaru for “promoting homosexuality” (car ads don’t promote homosexuality, we do). But, as it turns out, it had no sway. Why? Because they realized that these people weren’t buying Subarus anyway. Hell, some of them misspelled Subaru in their letters! So ultimately, who gives a damn what they think anyway?
4. Games Are Fun!
This shouldn’t be news. Everyone knows games are fun! If they weren’t fun, we wouldn’t play them! Subaru got this, and started hiding queer references in plain sight. Rainbow bumper stickers and amusing custom license plates like “XENA LVR” or “CAMP OUT” appeared in ads. They’d even use taglines laden with innuendo: “Get Out. And Stay Out.” “Entirely comfortable with its orientation.”
Strangely enough — straight people rarely noticed these shout-outs. The creator of the license plate ads held focus groups where he’d show ads with gay couples after spending an hour talking about gay issues. The groups — still! — thought the ads depicted someone shopping with their uncle, rather than a gay couple.
Other companies’ ads were a bit too vague — like the famous Volkswagen “Da Da Da” spot:
While the couple in the car might be gay, they might also be best friends or roommates. There’s no “OUTNPRD” license plate or rainbow imagery to tip their hand. Subaru, on the other hand, made no bones about their allegiances.
5. It Pays Off
Subaru’s love affair with the LGBTQ community didn’t end with the ’90s. Not only have they embraced the “Lesbaru” stereotype in pop culture, they continue their outreach efforts — and it’s worked. Subaru is consistently named as the favorite car brand of many queer consumers — and they’ve been so popular, Subaru’s parent company renamed themselves Subaru. Not only that, but the only brand to grow faster in the 2010s than Subaru is Tesla.
Not bad for a company that, before embracing their gay and lesbian base, had seen sales fall drastically in the mid-’90s.
(Featured image: 2013 Subaru “Love” Ad)