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Entirely Comfortable with Its Orientation: Subaru’s Successful History of Gay/Lesbian Integrated Marketing Communications. “ Companies can’t just throw one ad at gay consumers and think they’re done. ” – Mike Wilke, Founder and former Executive Director of Commercial Closet Association.

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Entirely Comfortable with Its Orientation: Subaru’s Successful History of Gay/Lesbian Integrated Marketing Communications


“Companies can’t just throw one ad at gay consumers and think they’re done.”

– Mike Wilke, Founder and former Executive Director of Commercial Closet Association

  • The U.S. Automotive Industry
  • Brief History of Gay & Lesbian Marketing
  • Subaru
    • Company Overview
    • Gay & Lesbian IMC Efforts
    • Recognition
  • Ford
    • Company Overview
    • Gay-Friendly History
    • Recognition
    • AFA Boycott
  • Comparing Subaru and Ford
  • Current Dilemma
  • Questions
the u s automotive industry
The U.S. Automotive Industry
  • 40+ automotive makers in the U.S.
  • Current turmoil:
    • economic recession
    • increased oil prices
    • poor management
    • Chrysler and GM file for bankruptcy in 2009
  • U.S. sales breakdown:
    • Japanese auto manufacturers = 47.5%
    • American manufacturers = 34.8%
    • Foreign imports (primarily European) = 17.7%
  • Industry leads all in ad spending
    • allocated $10.1 billion to advertising in 2008
brief history of gay lesbian mktg
Brief History of Gay/Lesbian Mktg
  • Ad spending in gay media more than tripled between 1994 and 2007 ($53 million to $182 million)
  • Companies across several industries market to gays/lesbians, yet few total companies overall
  • IKEA (1994), AT&T (1994), Mazda (1994), and John Hancock (2000) receive conservative backlash for their ads
  • Gay automotive advertisements:
    • Saab first to advertise to gays/lesbians in 1994
    • Saturn second  1995
    • Subaru third  1996
    • VW fourth  1997
subaru company overview
Subaru: Company Overview
  • 1917: Nakajima Aircraft Co., Ltd. founded
  • 1953: Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) created
  • 1958: Subaru of Japan founded
  • 1968: Subaru of America founded
subaru company overview1
Subaru: Company Overview
  • Subaru today:
    • Headquartered in Cherry Hill, NJ
    • Led by Yoshio Hasunuma: Chairman, President, & CEO
    • 600 dealerships nationwide
    • 2008: Sold 192,760 cars
    • 2008: 2.2% of U.S. market share
    • 2008: Spent $195 million on advertising
    • Toyota owns an 8.7% stake in FHI
subaru gay lesbian imc efforts
Subaru: Gay/Lesbian IMC Efforts
  • 1994: Research shows lesbians are key consumer base
  • 1995: Founding sponsor of Rainbow Card
  • 1996: began advertising in gay media
    • “Entirely comfortable with its orientation.”
    • “It’s not a choice. It’s the way we’re built.”
    • “Get out and stay out.”
    • “Different Drivers. Different Roads. One Car.”
subaru gay lesbian imc efforts1
Subaru: Gay/Lesbian IMC Efforts
  • 1996 - today: sponsors gay/lesbian events nationwide
  • 2004 - 2009: Brand integration on The L Word
  • 2004 - 2006: founding sponsor of Sirius OutQ
  • 2005 - today: founding sponsor of Logo; current Logo Legacy Campaign using brand interstitials
subaru gay lesbian imc efforts2
Subaru: Gay/Lesbian IMC Efforts

“Look, we know that our owner base and our

consumers are extremely well educated, and

they celebrate diversity. A person who would be

offended by our advertising probably would not

have bought our car anyway.”

- Tim Bennett, former Director of Marketing for Subaru


subaru recognition
Subaru: Recognition
  • 2002 – today: HRC CEI ranking
  • 2005: Bennett wins Visionary Executive Award from Commercial Closet Association
  • 2008: MediaPost’s Automotive Marketer of the Year
  • 2009: GLAAD’s Corporate Responsibility Award
ford company overview
Ford: Company Overview
  • 2008: Net income of $14.7 billion
  • 2008: Sold 2.3 million automobiles in North America alone
  • 2008: 14.2% of all U.S. Auto sales
  • 2008: 6th largest U.S. advertiser ($1.4 billion)
  • One of the Big 3 American auto manufacturers
    • Only one of Big Three to not receive bailout money in 2008
ford gay friendly history
Ford: Gay-Friendly History
  • 1995: GLOBE founded
  • 1996: GLOBE develops intranet site
  • 1999: Jaguar sponsors GLAAD Media Awards
  • 2000 – today: Ford sponsors numerous gay/lesbian events
  • 2001: Volvo starts advertising in gay media
  • 2002: Land Rover starts advertising
  • 2003: Jaguar starts advertising
ford recognition
Ford: Recognition
  • 2000: HRC Corporate Equality Award
  • 2002 – today: HRC CEI ranking
    • 2004 and 2005: only automotive company to score perfect 100
  • 2003: Diversity, Inc. names Ford #1 for diversity, second best for LGBT employees
ford afa boycott
Ford: AFA Boycott
  • 05/31/2005: AFA announces boycott
  • 06/2005: Ford meets with AFA for first time
  • 11/28/2005: Ford meets with AFA for second time; announces it’s pulling future Jaguar and Land Rover ads
  • 11/30/2005: AFA calls off boycott
ford afa boycott1
Ford: AFA Boycott


“That is not something that came about in the last week or month. It’s been evolving a long time. This was made as a pure business decision, not as a social statement one way or another. This was not a decision in response to the American Family Association. Jaguar and Land Rover are streamlining their advertising in 2006.”

- Mike Moran, Ford Spokesman

ford afa boycott2
Ford: AFA Boycott
  • 12/10/2005: Ford agrees to meeting with gay stakeholders
  • 12/12/2005: Ford announces intent to run corporate ad for all 8 brands in gay media
  • 12/15/2005: Rev. Wildmon drafts letter to Chairman Bill Ford
  • 03/13/2006: Boycott reinstated
  • 03/10/2008: Boycott ceases
comparing subaru ford
Comparing Subaru & Ford
  • Japanese vs. American auto manufacturers
    • Size
  • Sales figures
  • Target markets
  • Ad budgets
current dilemma
Current Dilemma
  • Subaru needs to:
    • retain its competitive advantage using public relations strategies as competition increases
    • keep diversifying its IMC efforts in years to come, especially if new gay media outlets are not available for sponsorship
    • continue to grow its consumer base without damaging current stakeholder relationships
  • As competition increases, how can Subaru retain its competitive advantage through corporate communication efforts, particularly to reach gay and lesbian consumers who are unaware of their previous efforts?
  • Is Subaru’s IMC strategy for reaching gay men and lesbians sustainable? Why/why not?
  • How can Subaru diversify its IMC efforts in years to come?
  • What other niche markets can Subaru pursue that would not alienate its current consumer base?
  • Should Subaru’s initial reluctance to discuss its gay and lesbian marketing efforts be viewed as simply a protection of business intelligence from competitors? Could their strategy be interpreted differently by various stakeholders?
  • Should Ford’s Mike Moran and others have handled the company’s initial statements and media questions differently? If yes, how?
    • Consider Moran’s comment that in 2005, Ford had considered pulling its Land Rover and Jaguar ads for 18 months. The companies just started advertising in 2002 and 2003, respectively, which left little time to measure the ads’ impact.
    • Should Moran have elaborated on Land Rover and Jaguar’s plans to pull ads from other media outlets so as to not give the impression that the pull was unique to gay media?
  • What can Subaru (and other companies) learn from Ford’s handling of the AFA boycott?
  • Based on the experiences of Subaru and Ford, if companies decide to advertise to gay and lesbian consumers, when should they do so?
    • Is advertising to the communities’ alone enough?
    • What sort of IMC strategy should be in place?