Tim Mahoney recalls feeling apprehensive in 2007 as he took the stage at a Subaru dealer meeting in Salt Lake City to unveil the brand's "Love" advertising campaign.
Now Chevrolet's global marketing chief, Mahoney was at the time Subaru of America's vice president of marketing and the man behind the "Love" campaign that debuted in 2008 with the launch of the third-generation Forester wagon.
He says he was relieved they didn't boo him off the stage in Salt Lake City.
"The work was so good they came along for the ride," said Mahoney, who had been at Subaru from 1984 to 1999 before taking over marketing at Porsche Cars North America. In 2007, he was a year into his second stint with Subaru.
When he came back he said he found the brand's marketing was "kind of all over the place."
Mahoney brought in Carmichael Lynch as Subaru's advertising agency.
"We were not changing 'It's What Makes a Subaru a Subaru,' " he said. "But we did need to answer 'What makes a Subaru a Subaru?' "
Carmichael Lynch interviewed Toyota and Honda owners, who said what they liked about their cars was their reliability and durability.
"It was all rational," Mahoney said. "When they would ask Subaru owners, the first thing that came out of their mouths is 'I love it.' That became the germ of the idea of 'Love.' "
When Wall Street tanked in 2008 and auto sales plummeted, Subaru knew carmakers would "blow their brains out with December sales events," he said.
Subaru couldn't afford to compete with dollars but saw "a lot of people were hurting during that recession," he said. Donations to charitable organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had dried up.
"We knew Subaru owners care about their community and giving back," Mahoney said. "We peeled $250 per car from the incentive budget and said we will donate."
Subaru buyers could choose from five organizations, and the company would donate $250 to that group. The "Share the Love," campaign was born.
Mahoney says he still has a warm spot for Subaru — his first employer after graduate school.
"Now I am seven years away and I am happy to see that work is growing," he said. "They are still on that same trajectory and the marketing is good."