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Why Dog Lovers Love Subaru

Subaru of America, Inc.

The Barkleys introducing the new 2019 Subaru Ascent at the LA Auto Show along with Tom Doll, Subaru president and COO.

Unless you haven't watched live TV or YouTube in the past 10 years, chances are you've seen the Subaru commercials with dogs driving the car. For example, one called "In the Dog House" goes like this: a "dad" dog is stopped at a stop sign in his Subaru. While dreamy music plays, he watches a perfectly coiffed standard poodle cross in front of the car. Meanwhile, his "wife" dog in the passenger seat growls at him.

Even if you're not a dog lover, you've got to love that commercial.

"Love" is a word you hear a lot with regards to Subaru. It was almost 10 years ago that the carmaker launched its "Love" campaign, be it love of the car, love of dogs, love of safety, etc. And it all came about quite organically.

Subaru Loves Dogs

"Back in 2007 we were looking to redefine the Subaru brand and what makes it special, different and unique," says Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing at Subaru. "We knew from the product side, with all-wheel drive, safety and reliability, we had the uniqueness."

But what was unique about the Subaru customer? Something interesting emerged when they asked Subaru owners why they had brand loyalty. Regardless of age, gender, income level or geography, Subaru owners had one thing in common—they loved their cars. "We identified it as the common truth that made these owners the same," Bethke adds.

There was another common truth among these Subaru owners—they loved animals. Subaru research showed that 67 percent of car owners had a pet, and half of them had a dog.

"We took that little piece of insight, just a piece of data in Subaru research, and started making dog-tested, dog-approved advertising spots," he continues. The first commercial to show a dog driving a Subaru hit the airwaves in 2008. The stars of the commercials were just the rescues of employees at the Minneapolis ad agency that was responsible for the spots.

Giving Back to Good Causes

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Subaru has continued to use dogs in its advertising campaign. In addition, the company has contributed significantly to animal causes through its "Share the Love" philanthropic endeavors.

"Subaru has always been a company that has liked to give back. It's part of our DNA," says Bethke. "Historically, we would donate quietly, but when we came up with the 'Love' campaign and put the focus back on the owner, we wanted to find the causes and passions [owners] care about and the types of charities they support. And when we were diving into that, because of their love of pets, they liked to support charities that are in that pet space. We wanted to create a meaningful impact in the space, so we started a relationship with ASPCA."

One of the ways that Subaru has supported the ASPCA is through grants for Rescue Rides, which transport animals for adoption. "We've transported over 21,000 dogs in just four years," says Bethke. Through its total efforts working with the ASPCA, Subaru has donated $14 million and helped to rescue and adopt out nearly 40,000 animals.

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There are other ways that Subaru gives back to animals.

The Center for Pet Safety

Subaru sponsored two studies conducted by the Center for Pet Safety around pet travel. It looked at dog harnesses/safety belts and animal crates that performed well in crash tests. This blog post on traveling with pets shares some of the research outcomes, including recommended products.

Southeastern Guide Dogs

Subaru works with the Southeastern Guide Dogs by sponsoring a number of events that fund the training and development of guide dogs. These dogs are eventually paired with individuals that need a service animal.

A New Subaru Debuts

Those dog-driving commercials started a trend that is still as strong nearly 10 years later. In fact, when Subaru debuted its newest car model, the 2019 Ascent, at the Los Angeles Car Show in November, dogs introduced it. Actually, the golden retriever family called The Barkleys, that are the stars of those dog commercials, "drove" the car onto the stage. And then seven dogs exited the Ascent to show how many this new, three-row model vehicle can seat. (With captains chairs it seats seven. With a second row bench, it can seat eight.)

Clearly, the "Dog Tested. Dog Approved" advertising campaign has had an effect on dog-loving consumers. Subaru says that dog ownership among Subaru drivers has grown by 49 percent between 2008 and 2013.

Subaru also keeps these dog-owning drivers in mind as it designs cars. "We pride ourselves on making cars easier to use, whether that applies to human occupants or dogs," says Michael McHale, director of corporate communications for Subaru. "We make sure that our doors are wide, and open to 90 degrees. It makes it easier when putting a baby seat in the back seat or a dog crate."

"Subaru is a family-focused brand, and the Barkleys are a family of dogs," says Bethke. "So we are now telling stories of dogs doing people things and dogs doing family things."

Here are some of those Barkleys commercials, showing this family of dogs doing family things.

Speaking of watching TV commercials, on Super Bowl Sunday, Subaru will be sponsoring something else pet-related. No, not the Puppy Bowl, but rather the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. Like the Puppy Bowl, the Kitten Bowl will focus on rescued animals that are available for adoption.

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