This Subaru Ad Is So Horrific It Gave Me Goosebumps

The ad writers at Subaru must think they are quite funny.

They probably spent hours batting around clever headline ideas to sell cars, none of which actually had anything to do with selling cars.

Finally, they agreed on their approach and paid thousands to put a full-page ad in Inc. magazine.

Unfortunately, the ad writers’ attempt at humor is so deficient I’m not even sure what to say about it.

Did they talk about speed, fuel efficiency, safety, interior space? No, none of these things.

They talked about goosebumps

Here’s the ad. See for yourself.

subaru goosebumps e1372696800394 225x300 This Subaru Ad Is So Horrific It Gave Me Goosebumps

“Goosebumps just became practical.”

What the hell does that even mean?

Are goosebumps going to help me drive the Subaru Forester better than I would without them?

Is the Forester so fast that I’ll need to increase the drag coefficient by putting my goosebumped arms out the windows?

The goosebumps headline is never explained, and the rest of the ad is nearly as bad…

Just when you thought the all-new 2014 Subaru Forester couldn’t get any better, your foot hits the gas. The 2.0XT comes attached to a 250-hp turbocharged SUBARU BOXER engine. All the better to enjoy the spacious new interior. A sturdy cargo net is less optional than you might have imagined. Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

Forester 2.0XT. Thrillingly-equipped at $27,995

The first sentence of the body copy makes a big blunder because I’m not thinking about the Forester at all, much less how the 2014 model could be better.

I’ve got better things to do. I’m thinking about deadlines, bills, opportunities, and a million other things. The Subaru Forester is not one of them.

The body copy first emphasizes speed, then interior space, then speed again. It’s confusing.

And can the phrase “spacious new interior” be any more generic? It could apply to any car on the market. You’d think the ad writers would include some specifics… like how much interior space the car has and how it compares to similar models.

But, no. The ad writers prefer to showcase their cleverness rather than useful details that might help sell the car.

Anyway, this ad is a miserable failure.

Completely confusing and unfunny headline.

Obtuse and generic body copy.

No call to action, not even to visit a dealership or schedule a test-drive.

As I was thinking about writing this blog post, I received Bob Bly’s daily email. Inside I found this quote by Maxwell Sackheim, which sums up perfectly the lesson that Subaru’s ad writers desperately need to learn.

“Clever plays on words and attempts to be funny in advertising usually fall flat. There is a place for cleverness and humor, but it is a rare product that can win more customers through these devices.”

-Maxwell Sackheim, “7 Deadly Sins of Advertising”

And sometimes attempts to be funny don’t just fall flat — they confuse and put off prospects, too.

Confusion. It’s what makes a Subaru ad, a Subaru ad. (Copyright pending.)

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. Want your ad to actually sell your product? Consider hiring me to write your ad for you.

16 Comments

  • Marya Miller

    July 1, 2013

    I think only John Cleese can pull off humor in business. Subaru certainly can’t. Sadly, you are always going to offend someone if you use humor in ad writing. Look at the Nabob ad, where the couple gushed over their new puppy, saying “Puppeee!” every time it ripped something to shreds. Then it got their bag of Nabob coffee. Next frame, puppy was gone: Couple was cooing over the bag of Nabob: “Naaaabob!”

    I thought it was hilarious, but I heard through the ad grapevine that the ad got pulled due to thousands of complaints from animal lovers!

    As for this one, well, it’s not even really humor, is it? “Goosebumps just became practical” is the sort of comment pros throw out after the first round of wild brainstorming.

    I wholly identified with you when you said: “I’ve got better things to do. I’m thinking about deadlines, bills, opportunities, and a million other things. The Subaru Forester is not one of them.”

    Frankly, the only thing that made me think about Subarus at all was your email with the link to this article.

  • Jeremy Reeves

    July 1, 2013

    That’s just sad…

    It blows my mind that companies seriously get THIS lazy. Especially when putting their ads in newspapers/magazines, etc. that cost multiple 5-figures!

    • Paul

      July 1, 2013

      Maybe its laziness Jeremy, but I think the problem is really the old school vs. new school advertising. These “legacy” advertisers are clinging to 20th century tactics which are completely ineffective these days.

      I’ll bet the people that signed off on this ad “knows what works” because they have been in the industry for a long time.

      But hey, at least that allows smaller business with even a dollop of advertising common sense to run circles around these dinosaurs :)

      • Jeremy Reeves

        July 1, 2013

        I concur :)

      • Clarke Echols

        July 5, 2013

        “…clinging to 20th century tactics which are completely ineffective these days”?

        They weren’t effective in the 20th Century either!

        If you don’t believe it, read Claud Hopkins’ “My Life in Advertising” published in 1917! It’s an old problem that comes from college “professors” who have no clue.

        Remember: They’re called professors because they profess knowledge they don’t actually possess. That’s because they’ve never done (successfully) what they teach. Brand-image doesn’t work, and never did. Rosser Reeves’ “Reality in Advertising” is full of proofs of that truth.

  • Gogo

    July 1, 2013

    Honestly,

    I think the saddest part of this commercial is that the whole “goosebumps” play strikes a discordant note with both the product (look at that Subaru…it doesn’t scream “sleek beauty” “scary speed”) and perception (who puts Subaru in the “sexy car” category?)

    I love Subaru’s for affordable, all-wheel, persistence … not for speed or beauty. To me, they’re the “workman farmer” of the automobile world.

    Whoever produced this ad doesn’t seem to know what their point of difference actually is… terrible.

    • Ryan M. Healy

      July 1, 2013

      Good observation, Gogo.

      I agree that Subarus are most often associated with their all-wheel drive systems. To me, Subarus are a way to get all-weather driving capability paired with decent gas mileage. As such, they’re attractive alternatives to SUVs.

      One exception among the Subaru line-up is the WRX, which is known for its power, speed, and handling. The WRX is one of the best values among sports cars. (I owned one in 2009.)

      The Forester, in particular, has a definite stereotype, which I’m not sure Subaru is even aware of. I would buy an Outback long before I would ever consider a Forester simply due to the stereotype.

  • Joseph Ratliff

    July 1, 2013

    I thought you were joking in the blog post at first Ryan.

    After seeing that ad, I don’t know what to say except “WTF?”

    And…

    When are car companies going to get it? This is the second highest purchase for someone beyond a house (for most people), and they want to even try to sell it in a full-spread?

    Not. Even. Close.

    Have you ever “test-driven” a specific car, or even called a dealership, specifically because you saw an ad in a magazine? I haven’t, and I’ve purchased 3, including 2 brand new cars.

    To me, wrong call to action.

    I even disagree with “brand reinforcement” by advertising in magazines. Think about it, when you go to think about purchasing a car, do you do so based on which brand is in the front of mind?

    I don’t think so, not with a purchase this big. We’re not talking about buying a soft drink here, it’s a long selling cycle, not an impulse buy. :)

    I think an ad in a magazine, IF that is the right way to reach future buyers (I’m starting to doubt that too), would need to advertise a more “information gathering” approach. Give reasons why I should consider a Subaru, and the call to action might be a free download of the brochure, pricing, etc… (a targeted marketing package with nearby dealerships would be best).

    I can’t believe Subaru couldn’t invest it’s marketing dollars better, perhaps in more targeted marketing campaigns… I just can’t see why Subaru and other manufacturers can’t just stop being so lazy with their money.

    Sheesh.

  • David Hunter

    July 1, 2013

    This ad just proves you can throw out garabage and make a lot of money doing it.

    • Ryan M. Healy

      July 1, 2013

      Or perhaps it’s the other way around…

      You can make so much money that you can afford to pay for garbage.

  • David

    July 1, 2013

    I like the way you think.

  • Stephen Bray

    July 2, 2013

    Ryan,

    I agree, I agree, I agree . . . and I used to have a blog that featured such crass faux pas . . . but the truth is nobody cares.

    What you do best is demonstrate how to write compellingly. Dissing others’ stuff, even if it should never have seen the light of day, rarely builds business.

    That’s why I dropped that angle.

    Stephen

    • Ryan M. Healy

      July 5, 2013

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience, Stephen! :-)

  • Scott McKinstry

    July 9, 2013

    The first thing the ad made me think of was the children’s ‘horror’ book series, Goosebumps. Didn’t exactly make me want to buy a car.

    Car ads seem to be the poster child for “image” advertising that ignores the successful direct mail principles advocated by Hopkins and Caples. So my question is…
    Can anyone point to car ads that do use direct marketing principles? Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce ad is often included in swipe files, and many local car ads are heavy on price and “come in this weekend” type of copy, but how about national car campaigns, either in print, online, or TV? Any thoughts?

    • Ryan M. Healy

      July 10, 2013

      I’ve seen some car ads that run in the Denver Post that use direct response principles. The ads are written for a dealership, but advertise a specific car, usually a Buick or Pontiac or some other American car. I’ll have to peek at my next Sunday paper to see if I can find one of them. All the ads are copyrighted by the same author who seems to have a made a business of writing car ads.

  • Corey J. Pemberton

    July 9, 2013

    Ryan,

    Whoa! I missed this “ad” before seeing your post. This one totally missed the mark.

    How are goosebumps a benefit? Who cares if they’re “practical?” I think a large part of this disaster stems from the ad creators’ failure to understand Subaru’s target market.

    With the exception of the WRX, “goosebump-seeker” is probably the last thing that comes to mind when I meet someone who drives (or wants to drive) a Subaru. They’re not looking for goosebumps at all; they’re looking for something safe, dependable, and capable of handling tough weather conditions.

    Another case of someone trying to be clever with catastrophic results. At least we can learn from it and not make those mistakes in our ads.

    Thanks for your post,

    Corey