While Subaru of America is recognised as a pioneer advertiser in the gay press and for using gay-targeted campaigns in the mainstream press, this is believed to be the biggest campaign a multi-national company is undertaking to advertise to gay consumers in Singapore and Asia.
In 2000, Subaru of America appointed tennis star and out lesbian Martina Navratilova as a spokesperson for the brand. The deal is Navratilova's first major sponsorship deal since coming out in the late 80s.
Over the years, the company's ads evolved from using wholesome images which consumer research showed that people didn't related to those pictured to ads that featured Subaru models sporting clever vanity license plates which was then perceived as "secret coding" straight readers didn't understand. The well-liked ads which appeared in 1999 featured phrases like "XENA LVR," a play on the popularity among lesbians of the show "Xena, Warrior Princess," and "P-TOWN," a reference to Provincetown, the popular tourist destination in the US for lesbians and gay men.
Following it success, Subaru stuck with the word play and launched billboards ads that read, "It's Not a Choice. It's the Way We're Built," "Get out. And Stay Out" and "Entirely comfortable with it orientation."
While some sceptics have dismissed Subaru's marketing efforts as being entirely profit driven, others note that the car company's hiring of spokesperson Navratilova, who did not get any major endorsements for more than a decade after coming out, represents the boldest act of support towards the gay community and a commercial enterprise.
Although she appeared briefly in ads for Apple Computer, The New York Times and Prince racquets, most advertisers were fearful of being endorsed by an open lesbian although Navratilova has won more tournaments than any other player (male or female) in history.
In an interview with The New York Times, she said, "If I had been quiet about it [being gay], I would have had ads long before this. It is a fact."
"All most other advertisers could see was the fact I'm a lesbian. Subaru doesn't care. They see me as everything I am."
Subaru is also a Founding Sponsor of the Rainbow Endowment, which was co-founded by Navratilova in 1995. The Rainbow Endowment and the funds derived from the use of the Rainbow Visa Card is used to promote the health and social well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and to support AIDS research. The carmaker also makes a donation to the programme for each vehicle purchased.
In same year Navratilova was appointed, Subaru made history as being the first to offer its employees' domestic partner benefits; a month later, Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler jointly announced with the United Auto Workers union that they would follow suit.
The carmaker also scored a first by sponsoring the first all-gay team, consisting 3 lesbians and a gay man, to compete in Eco-Challenge 2002, a gruelling adventure-expedition race. Team Eco-Subaru athletes Susan Murphy, Rodger McFarlane, Ilana Lobet, and Pamela Fletcher faced 81 international teams trekking through 500 kilometers of rugged terrain in Fiji.
As a pioneer in gay targeted advertising, Subaru is unsurprisingly also a sponsor of the Commercial Closet, whose mission is to lessen social discrimination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by encouraging corporations and ad agencies to improve LGBT portrayals in mainstream advertising.
Fridae.com's co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dr Stuart Koe said, "Gays and lesbians have been shown to be immensely loyal to companies and brands who treat them with respect. Subaru has experienced this first hand in America, and soon too in Singapore and Asia. Fridae is proud to take our relationship that started with the sponsorship of Nation 03 to the next level, and look forward to a close working relationship with Subaru."
This is the first of six articles brought to you by Subaru/ MOTORIMAGE Enterprises Pte Ltd. Fridae will be presenting more articles on the latest Subaru models and technology in the next six months.