Riding high with its all-wheel-drive fleet, Subaru has picked its way through the competitive jungle to find a nifty marketing partnership.
Its target: the 50,000 members of the American Canoe Association. The organization, founded in 1890, is one of America's oldest sporting and environmental groups, consisting mainly of canoeists and kayaking enthusiasts.
The relationship works this way: Association mem-bers receive a 'Boatload of Benefits' packet including a coupon that entitles them to a three-year free maintenance plan with the purchase of a new Subaru. The plan, worth about $500, covers oil changes and routine maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.
In 1994, before the partnership was formed, about 5,600 Subaru new-car buyers were canoeists or kayak enthusiasts, says Tim Mahoney, Subaru director of marketing in Cherry Hill, N.J. That number soared to 14,300 last year.
'This is a good example of the kind of integrated marketing plan we strive for,' Mahoney says. 'Establishing a partnership with an organization like the ACA helps us develop a dialogue with a group of customers. It establishes (our) credibility.'
The partnership, initiated cautiously with a one-year agreement in 1995, has blossomed. The one-year pact was followed by a two-year contract and then a five-year agreement.
'This is the first time we've partnered with an automaker,' says Jeff Yeager, the association's executive director. But the fit was good, and now Yeager describes Subaru as 'our lead sponsor.'
Subaru developed print ads for the association's Paddler magazine, with themes such as 'how to get up a creek without a paddle.' A visit to the association's Web site (www.acapaddler.com) reveals a picture of a Subaru Forester that visitors can click to reach Subaru's own Web site.
Since getting into the program, Subaru marketers attend 20 to 30 canoe or kayak events each year. In addition, Subaru last year launched Outback Rendezvous, two weekend outdoor clinics and activities for Subaru owners and prospects. Yeager says the 1998 events in Gaithersburg, Md., and Aurora, Colo., drew 2,000 and 4,000 people, respectively. This year the show will go to two additional sites - Syracuse, N.Y., and Minneapolis - with the hope of drawing up to 10,000 visitors each.
Mahoney would not say how much Subaru spends on events, but Adverting Age estimates the company spent about $2.3 million on events last year, about double what it was spending five years ago.
Mahoney says event marketing has helped Subaru expose its vehicles to consumers outside the dealership arena. It also gives the company another way to make a point about the advantage of its vehicles over conventional sport-utilities. Says Mahoney, 'You can put a canoe or kayak atop a Subaru wagon without climbing a stepladder.'