When Subaru Came Out: The Birth of the Lezbaru

Everyone knows the Subaru is, apart from the U-Haul, the ultimate dyke mobile. How did this stereotype come to be? Among gay people, it seems to have preceded Subaru’s explicit lesbian niche marketing. NPR’s Planet Money tells the whole story.

“Subaru spent more than a decade carefully targeting lesbian consumers” Noelle King and Stacy Bannock Smith explain.

Subaru sales had been slumping in the early 90s, as they competed against and fell shortof biggerr import brands. Desperate to turn things around, the considered their biggest selling point, the all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is for outdoorsy types, those in a cold climate or otherwise unstable climate. Focus groups featured campers and professionals of different types. Not a lot to go on for a marketing campaign.

A gay man in one of these focus groups pointed out that of all of his friends who owned Subarus, all of them were lesbians. The mid-90s were hardly friendly to gays, and while things had begun shifting since the early and most aggressive days of the gay liberation movement, it’s not like Subaru was predisposed to being ‘openminded’ on the topic of inclusion.

A focus group of Subaru owners in Northampton, MA brought out lesbians in their stereotypic essence. They heard from owners who said they got a Subaru in order to move their dogs from point A to point B. To go camping.

While it seemed like a hard sell, the company was willing to try what other companies had deemed toxic (in ignorant opposition to the numbers proving gay and lesbian niche marketing was profitable).

Some of the cutest details Planet Money highlights from the campaign are the subtle nods to lesbians, in-jokes that straights seeing these ads might miss entirely.

Stuff like a license plate on the Subaru that says XENALVR and messages like “It’s not a choice.”

True to the market research, two years after the campaign began, sales grew. The lesbian-targeted ads were so successful that in 2000, the car manufacturer signed Martina Navratilova, high-profile lesbian and retired tennis star, to represent in print, billboard, and television ads.

The typical and on-brand outrage from right-wingers and moralists did not deter Subaru’s mainstreaming of the lesbian lifestyle.

Targeted marketing may have saved Subaru, and in fact, they were they only car manufacturer to maintain market share through the recession.

Wink, wink 😉

These days Subaru has moved away from niche marketing. But the Lesbaru will forever be cemented in lesbian culture because of the product placement they got in the L Word.

Dana Fairbanks could sell me just about anything tbh.