MY2011 Subaru WRX

Off to a Good Start (BRONZE)
Best Integrated Program (BRONZE)

Client Credits: Subaru Canada
Ted Lalka, Vice President, Product Planning & Marketing
Geoff Craig, Director Marketing

Agency Credits: DDB Canada
Michael Davidson, Senior VP, Business Unit Director
Peter Brough, Account Supervisor
Sarah Thornley, Account Executive
Julia Morris, Account Executive
Parker Mason, Community Cultivation
Tanya Foulem, French Account Manager
Tony Johnstone, SVP Director of Strategic Planning
Andrew McCartney, Managing Director Digital and Social
Andrew McCartney, Managing Director Digital and Social
Todd Mackie, Co-Creative Director
Denise Rosseto, Co-Creative Director
Paul Wallace, Associate Creative Director – Art Direction
Yusong Zhang, Art Director
Daniel Bonder, Copywriter
Barry Lachapelle, Creative Technologist
Andrew Schulze, Director of Broadcast Production
Cathy Kim, Digital Producer
Rose-Ella Morrison, Director of Print Production
AdRules, Studio Artists

Crossover Notes:
Crossover Notes: All winning cases contain lessons that cross over from one case to another. David Rutherford has been identifying these as Crossover Notes since CASSIES 1997. The full set for CASSIES 2012 can be downloaded from the Case Library section at

Crossover Note 3. Core Equity versus Price & Promotion.
Crossover Note 12. Changing the Goalposts.
Crossover Note 17. Turning a liability into a strength.
Crossover Note 25. Brand Linkage (when should the brand name appear).
Crossover Note 27. Awareness Alone.

To see creative, click on the links that are embedded in the case.


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):October 2010 – March 2011
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: September 27, 2010
Base Period as a Benchmark: October 2009 – March 2010

a) Overall Assessment
When the WRX STI arrived on the market in 1994 it did so with little fanfare. This performance car, built off the modest-selling Subaru Impreza, wasn’t lacking in power, but its quirky design left it with an appearance that only a true performance car enthusiast could love.

From these humble beginnings, and through its ever-evolving design and engineering upgrades, the WRX STI has become synonymous with performance among enthusiasts. For many of these admirers the WRX STI is one of their dream cars to own. The brand has fostered love and respect through dominance in rally racing – one of the most grueling types of automotive racing on the planet.

Since its inception the WRX STI has always lived under the Impreza model name. But for the 2011 model year, it was split-off from Impreza, to become its own model under the Subaru umbrella. It was also more performance-oriented than ever, with a wider body, increased horsepower and traditional 4-door rally style: quite literally “the fastest WRX STI in history.” Its record-setting lap on Germany’s famed Nürburgring racetrack cemented its performance prowess. Many enthusiasts believe this is the way the WRX STI was meant to be – a true performance car, without the frills of the Impreza badge.

WRX STI sales had been stagnant over the previous 12 months. but the 2011 WRX STI was well engineered to recapture the hearts of performance car enthusiasts.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Think again.

Strict guidelines by Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) dramatically limit the way car-driving can be shown in communications to the public. This huge roadblock meant no speeding, no drifting and no jumps. So in other words, no fun. With this prohibition how could we avoid disappointing hardcore enthusiasts who have come to expect pretty extreme footage when it comes to watching their dream cars in action? [Crossover Note 17]

And did we mention that Subaru’s entire budget for this campaign (media and production) was only $1.8 million? Or that Subaru’s share of voice in the Canadian market of 1.3% was miniscule compared to Toyota, Honda and Nissan who each have a SOV of over 6.6%? [Crossover Note 27]

A challenge indeed.

b) Resulting Business Objectives
To increase sales by +25% during the campaign period.

Note that this objective was made more of a challenge because the new WRX STI was priced at a +10% premium to the competition (Jetta, Lancer) and there were no special deals or incentives being offered for the launch and campaign period. [Crossover Note 3]

c) Annual Media Budget
$1 - $2 million

d) Geographic Area
National Canada

a) Analysis and Insight
The target demographic for the WRX STI looks much like one would expect for a more expensive, high-performance car. They are Performance Car Enthusiasts: 35-45 year old males with HHI of $100K+, families, living in the suburbs, truly passionate about performance cars. They have active online lives but are consumers, not sharers of content. This was a very active target and tough to reach. We needed to find an effective way to connect with them.

With this in mind, an in-depth online listening audit was performed to examine what the performance car world was saying and thinking about the Subaru WRX STI, its competitors and the world of performance cars. We also sought to identify the key influencers in the category.

Through the 1-month listening audit, we un-covered the core target: the Performance Car Obsessed. These 18-29 year-olds (men) eat, sleep and breathe performance cars. Not only are they obsessed with anything and everything to do with high-performing automobiles, but unlike the more passive Performance Car Enthusiasts, they are active online sharers of content. They spend countless hours discovering and sharing content on hundreds and thousands of auto blogs and forums. This allowed us to make two very important strategic conclusions:

1. Anything we created needed to be deeply-rooted in the performance capabilities of the WRX STI in order for there to be both “consumability” and “shareability.”

2. If the content was interesting enough for our Performance Car Obsessed target it would no doubt be interesting enough for the Performance Car Enthusiasts.

b) Communication Strategy
As “the fastest WRX STI in history” we knew that we could feed our target's insatiable appetite for a performance-based idea. Our communication strategy became “The all-new Subaru WRX STI is Pure Performance,” and this drove all creative development and channel plans.

a) Media Used
> Television
> Print
> Radio
> Online Banners
> Online Video-Egg Banners
> Homepage
> Campaign Landing Page
> In-store POP
> YouTube Page
> In-video game
> Behind-the-scenes “Making Of” documentary short-film
> Social Media Content Seeding and Cultivation

b) Creative Discussion
The next challenge was to bring the strategy to life despite the ASC guidelines. So we went back to the drawing board, literally. [Crossover Note 12]

Using film, we created a real-life flip-book commercial and this allowed us to show what regulators would not.

In order to make this happen we needed 760 animated frames stretching along a 1km fence at a racetrack. They portrayed an exciting chase where an animated WRX STI is stalked by a giant robotic crab -- created by a camera fixed to a real 2011 WRX STI. Then, as the chase comes to an end, we pull back to see the re-designed car in all its glory. [Crossover Note 25]

Amazingly, using no post or CG, the flip-book animation was entirely powered by the WRX STI, and the idea was extended in two phases through a dozen different media:


The flip-book animation was broadcast nationally with a highly-targeted, specialty TV buy during a six-week period from October to November. A major focus was sports channels and sports programming on channels such as TSN/RDS and the Score. The TV buy was also supplemented with spots on TSN and RDS during airings of the Canadian Rally Championship, of which Subaru is a title sponsor.

With our target clamoring to find out just how we made the commercial we followed up with an eye-opening documentary showing the blending of art and science that brought the TV spot to life.

Key visuals from the animated flip-book ran during the first five weeks of the campaign.

Rich-media Big Box banners were used during the 6-week paid media portion of this campaign, showing the chase scene from the TV commercial as users scrolled over the ad.

These teased out the first 5 seconds of the TV film when users scrolled over this big-box banner ad. Once it was clicked on, users were invited to watch the film in its :30 entirety as well as the behind-the-scenes making of film.

Custom-built, in-game advertising units were placed into some of the leading racing and sports games for X-box including Need for Speed, Project Gotham Racing, Shaun White Snowboarding and Madden NFL.

A frame from the animation with a striking blue WRX STI was used to create an engaging and arresting homepage treatment for The visual directed users to click-through to see the TV film.

This housed campaign elements such as the TV film, the behind-the-scenes documentary film and WRX STI Rally footage.

Subaru’s YouTube channel was skinned with “Pure Performance” campaign visuals and was the hub for all WRX STI content. All social media cultivation and seeding online used links that directed users back to this YouTube page for viewing and sharing of all things WRX STI.

In-store banners, pole signs, car-toppers and mirror danglers helped bring “Pure Performance” to life at the point of sale. Visitors to dealerships were greeted with large-format banners showing an animation still from the TV spot.


Phase II consisted of social media seeding and cultivation of some unique content, including the television spot and the behind-the-scenes documentary to forums and blogs that were strategically aligned with our Performance Obsessed target’s online sharing and consuming habits. Our social cultivators were able to achieve campaign coverage on over 250 of the most popular auto and creative blogs on the web such as Jalopnik, AutoBlog and Gizmodo.

Before the dust settled, we uploaded an interactive YouTube video allowing users to experience the vehicle from four different angles in real time and gave them a feel for how the car would perform when driven by a professional at high speeds.

A multi-angle video shot at an off-road rally race (Tall Pines Rally) created a unique series of YouTube videos that allowed the viewer to change the camera angle in real time, giving them control over the action in much the same way they would when playing a racing video game. In fact, the linking of the four videos to allow for simultaneous viewing was so technically complex that they managed to max out the number of digital annotations, a YouTube first.

In total, online viewing traffic has surpassed 750,000 views: an incredible viewing total given the niche nature of performance vehicles and a testament to the social seeding and cultivation work that was performed.

YouTube honours during the campaign period for the TV Film included being the #1 most favourited Auto & Vehicle video in Canada as well as the #3 Most Viewed Auto and Vehicle video in Canada.

c) Media Discussion
The campaign began with a soft-launch in National print in October 2010. TV and in-campaign print began the third week in October, running nationwide. There was simultaneous campaign messaging on as well as at the dealership level with campaign imagery adorning showrooms across the country. The campaign landing page and the customized YouTube page (that provided all WRX STI campaign content as well as full details on the WRX STI) launched in conjunction with the television and remained live long after paid media was complete.

Phase 2 of the campaign consisted of social media seeding as noted above. It ran the entire length of the campaign and drove our target to the campaign landing page and YouTube for unique content and details on the WRX STI.

a) Sales/Share Results
Sales more than doubled during the business results period of October 2010 to March 2011. Total sales during the results period jumped to 695 units during those 6 months from only 302 units the previous year - an increase of 130%. This was on the heels of flat sales for the 12 months prior to campaign launch. And despite a 10% price premium vs. the competition, and no consumer price incentives.

Sales growth also continued after the active campaign was completed due to momentum created by the social media seeding/cultivation. Average monthly sales in the 3 months after the campaign ended (Feb-April 2011) were 123 units/month vs. 54 units/month in the same period the previous year (a +128% increase).

Overall, Subaru’s Japanese passenger car sales were up 16% in 2010 vs. 2009. Since the WRX STI was the only major launch for Subaru in this category, we can assume that the WRX STI Campaign was the cause of this success.

Additionally, Subaru’s overall share of the Japanese market was up 26% vs. the previous year (4.17% in 2009 vs. 5.23% in 2010), resulting in the most successful year-end in Subaru’s history. These gains allowed Subaru to maintain its title as the “fastest growing Japanese automotive manufacturer in Canada.”

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion
This was the first national campaign for the Subaru WRX STI in Canada. Therefore, without any previous WRX STI communications, and clear evidence that the campaign had cut through, there was undeniable linkage to the WRX-STI sales results.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels: This campaign had a modest budget of $1.8 million; that’s especially small when compared to other new-vehicle launch campaigns in the automotive industry.

Pricing: In addition to our modest media budget, we also maintained Subaru premium/full margin price and incentive levels for the launch.

Distribution Changes: Furthermore, our distribution levels stayed the same. The number of Subaru dealerships has remained constant at approximately 90 dealers for several years, all dealers carry all models, and there has been no change in specific model distribution.

Unusual Promotional Activity: We did not offer any special consumer incentives (e.g. 0% lease/finance, $0 down, gas gift cards, etc.) as most other automotive manufacturers were (and still are) doing, despite the fact that the WRX STI pricing sits at roughly 10% higher than that of its direct competition.

Other Potential Causes: The sales results can also be directly related to the WRX STI campaign because there were no other significant communications, sales or marketing efforts going on during the WRX campaign period. It was the only national Subaru communications campaign in the market.