Subaru ad blitz aims to boost Legacy sales 40%

Goal: Make sedan a stronger mid-sized player

Subaru launched three TV spots this month as part of its marketing campaign for the Legacy.
Legacy's challenge
Subaru wants its mid-sized sedan to top 60,000 U.S. sales this year.
 Legacy salesChange
Note: Beginning in 2009, the Legacy and Outback were considered separate vehicles with separate sales totals.
Source: Automotive News Data Center

Subaru is spending big with hopes of improving Legacy sales more than 40 percent in the next 12 months, as executives are confident the sixth-generation mid-sized sedan is finally the right size with features U.S. consumers want.

A bulked-up marketing campaign, the biggest in recent Subaru history, kicked off this month, Subaru executives said. They would not disclose spending but said it is "150 percent more," than any prior effort.

Subaru's sales and reputation have skyrocketed since the Japanese brand began redesigning its vehicles for U.S. shoppers about eight years ago, leading Subaru to six straight years of record U.S. sales. Now the surging brand wants to boost Legacy sales, which have grown more slowly than those of Subaru's other products.

"In the past we would come out with a new Legacy, but we did not have any advertising. Now we have the advertising dollars," said Bill Cyphers, retired senior vice president of marketing who is staying with Subaru of America through year end.

Subaru spent $226 million on marketing in 2013 and $66 million in the first quarter of 2014, up from $59 million during the same period last year, according to Kantar Media. Spending will increase even more in the second half to market the Legacy, Cyphers said.

Cyphers said Subaru wants to increase U.S. Legacy sales to at least 60,000 in the next 12 months. Last year, Subaru sold 42,291 Legacy sedans here. U.S. Legacy sales topped 40,000 units for the first time in 2011.

Subaru is betting the brand's growing strength can push Legacy sales upward in the competitive mid-sized sedan market dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, said Alan Bethke, vice president of marketing. Even at 60,000 units, the Legacy's sales would be far below those of the segment-leading Camry, which had U.S. sales of 408,484 in 2013.

The brand's higher profile means that more people than ever are considering its vehicles, Bethke said.

"For the last six years we defined the [brand] attributes," Bethke said. "We will use a lot of that strength for Legacy."

Subaru typically has launched each generation of the Legacy sedan at the same time as the better-selling Outback crossover, with most of the marketing dollars going to support the Outback, Cyphers said.

This time, Outback marketing has been pushed to September and won't be as costly.

Cyphers said Subaru has forecast 2014 U.S. sales of 470,000 vehicles, up from 424,683 last year.

Three TV commercials launched this month and will run through September with the ad line: "The Legacy is not just a sedan, it's a Subaru."

For instance, in one commercial called "The Fix," a child's radio-controlled toy car doesn't work. The father hands the remote to his boy and zips around in the dirt in a Legacy as if his car is being driven by his son.

This month, the Web site will allow buyers to compare the Legacy with other vehicles. The site will feature videos and comparisons "to see how Legacy stacks up," Bethke said.

What Subaru won't do is go head to head with the competitors on incentives for the Legacy, Cyphers said: "It is stupid money. We feel that we don't have to incentivize at that level to sell a car. Our incentive dollars are less than $1,000 per car."

The 2015 Legacy carried over the basic architecture of the previous generation -- which Subaru said was "resized" for the United States -- for this generation.

The Legacy got sexier styling, better fuel economy and an improved interior and connectivity. It also is available with EyeSight, a stereo camera technology to help prevent crashes.

The base model costs $23,285, including shipping. c

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