Subaru Ascent marketing stresses third row

“You’ll see ‘three-row’ very close to the word ‘Ascent’ in a lot of marketing communications, and that’s not by accident.”
Alan Bethke Subaru of America Photo credit: AUTOMOTIVE NEWS ILLUSTRATION

Consumers will be forgiven for thinking “three-row” is officially part of the 2019 Subaru Ascent’s name.

Subaru of America intends to say that phrase over and over (and over) again as it markets the new Ascent.

Whether it’s a minute-long TV commercial or a 6-second online ad, the phrase “the all-new three-row Subaru Ascent” is uttered in each spot — just in case a shopper missed the point.

Bethke: Building awareness

“We wanted to be very clear in our communications not only what the name of this vehicle is, but that it’s a three-row vehicle,” said Alan Bethke, Subaru of America’s senior vice president of marketing. The Ascent marketing campaign launched last week.

“You’ll see ‘three-row’ very close to the word ‘Ascent’ in a lot of marketing communications, and that’s not by accident.”

The Ascent, which went on sale in June, marked Subaru’s return to the hotly contested three-row cross-over segment. The brand’s last entry in the segment was the Tribeca, which ended production in 2014.

The Ascent will be fighting in a segment dominated by the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse. The Ascent has been eagerly awaited by Subaru retailers as a way to move existing Subaru owners into a larger crossover instead of losing them to bigger competitors.


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“We’re coming out with a new model, with an all-new name that people weren’t familiar with, in a segment where everyone’s established and where we’ve been absent for a long time,” Bethke told Automotive News. “And the last time we were there, we weren’t overly successful.

“We’ve been doing very well in this market, but we’re still going up against Toyotas, Hondas, Fords, Chevys and everybody else in the segment,” he said. “Building awareness of the name and of the fact that Subaru has a vehicle this large, and in this segment — that really is job No. 1.”

Subaru believes it now has a nameplate suitable for moving families up to a larger product, and that is reflected in the amount of family-friendly selling points highlighted in the campaign.

2019 Subaru Ascent

This includes focusing on second-row captain’s chairs and the vehicle’s standard EyeSight safety system. Captain’s chairs are available on all trims except the base model.

“A lot of competitors don’t have captain’s chairs at all, and if they do, they might only be on the upper-end models,” he said. “For families, that’s a great option.”

Subaru made the Ascent’s marketing message consistent across advertising media.

“You’ll notice kids in the third row. You’ll notice a car full of people,” Bethke said. “You’ll notice the same things in some of the short form content: usability of the third row, usability of the captain’s chairs and the features that are important in a family vehicle, like Wi-Fi and 19 cupholders.”

Subaru has sold 10,721 Ascents through August in the U.S. Last month was Subaru’s best U.S. sales month to date and the brand expects to post its 10th consecutive year of record U.S. sales in 2018.

Working with longtime ad partner Carmichael Lynch for the commercials, Subaru stuck with a marketing plan focused on an emotional pull for the vehicle, incorporating the new crossover into Subaru’s ongoing “Love” campaign. The TV commercials now end with the line “Love is now bigger than ever.”

“We wanted to connect it to the brand,” Bethke said. “Using the word “love” in the Ascent’s campaign was a way of connecting an unknown model to the Subaru brand. What makes this one different? It’s bigger.”

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