Ad of the Day: How Subaru Perfectly Poked Fun at Itself With Its Great Tree-Hugger Ad

Laughing at, but also loving, a stereotype

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Subaru's "Memory Lane" ad from Carmichael Lynch, with the hippie grandma teaching her granddaughter to love nature, has been out for more than a month. But it's still airing, and is one of the more remarkable ads of the year—a spot that manages to both embrace and make fun of the brand's persistent stereotypes, in a way that's utterly charming.

The ad, which takes place on a road trip to Woodstock, memorably ends with three generations of the same family literally hugging a tree—with the parents, who can't quite believe what's happening, hilariously stuck between the enduring idealism of the grandmother and the wide-eyed innocence of the granddaughter.

"They're hugging the tree," the mother says, watching from the car, in the scene before. (The spot is nothing if not self-aware.) The father, meanwhile, can't even muster that much commentary at the end, so bewildered is he by his mother's clichéd behavior.

It's a great little story, perfectly written, acted and directed (by Lance Acord of Park Pictures). But it wasn't without its risks. After all, directly addressing the brand's reputation as a car made for tree huggers—a pretty loaded term—can be dicey.

Indeed, the YouTube comments are amusingly political.

"I like the idea of cool old people rather than just the Fox News watching scared old people who are afraid of their own shadow," writes one viewer. Says another: "Whole family actually hugging a tree…… for the love of God make it stop. Liberal Marxist whack jobs have thrown this country into a tail spin!"

But it fact, the ad smartly plays things down the middle. The tree scene is both earnest and silly, and the parents—who are the Subaru owners here, after all—are both drawn to and repelled by it, in a way that's believable.

It takes a lot of confidence for a brand to lightly ridicule the very reputation its core customers have built around it. And in fact, the agency almost didn't go there.

"Generational ads are really hard to do, and even tougher to do well," Carmichael Lynch chief creative officer Dave Damman tells Adweek. "Add to that the huge challenge of cashing in some of the 'tree hugger' brand equity and spending it on the Summer of Love, 1969 mind-set, and it almost becomes something that if not done exactly right, you'd surely want to avoid. But it's a genuine, compelling story, and because of this brand and what it stands for, it makes complete sense that the car they own is a Subaru."

Damman adds: "Much like the importance of the 1969 music festival, it's a territory we felt can only be visited once, so it had to be the right story, and the right emotional fit. It's rare that in one spot you can have nostalgia, heartfelt generational connections, and everyday 'That's my life' humor. Identifying with the adventurous free spirit not only inspired the concept, but helped a great deal in bringing it to life. Lance Acord, the director, had an immediate connection—he proudly claimed that the grandma character was just like his own mother, and himself as the dad."

Executive creative director Randy Hughes puts it most succinctly: "Hugging the tree was something we felt we could laugh at and love at the same time," he says.

As for the YouTube critics who are gloating that the Woodstock festival took place in Bethel, N.Y., not Woodstock—"They got this dead wrong," says one—well, they're going to be furious to learn the ad was actually filmed at a dairy farm in Northern California.


Client: Subaru of America

Agency: Carmichael Lynch

Chief Creative Officer: Dave Damman

Exec Creative Director: Randy Hughes

Associate Creative Director, Writer: Conn Newton

Associate Creative Director, Art Director: Michael Rogers

Head of Production: Joe Grundhoefer

Senior Exec Content Producer: Brynn Hausmann

Director of Business Affairs: Vicki Oachs

Account Service Team: Brad Williams, Krista Kelly, Sarah Larsen

Production Company: Park Pictures

Director: Lance Acord

Executive Producer: MaryAnn Marino

Executive Producer: Jackie Kelman Bisbee

Line Producer: Pat Frazier

Director of Photography: Lance Acord

Edit House: Final Cut

Editor: Eric Zumbrunnen

Assistant Editor: Scott Butzer

Post House: Volt Studios

Online Artist: Steve Medin

Assistant: Sarah Thomas

Telecine: Company 3, Sean Coleman

Audio Mix: BWN Music, Carl White

Sound Design: BWN Music, Carl White

Artist: The Bones of J.R. Jones

Track: "Hearts Racing"

Composer: Jonathon Linaberry

Music Supervisor: Jonathan Hecht, Venn Arts

On-camera talent: Pat Caldwell, Rita Obermeyer, Chloe Bleu, Scott Rinker

Voiceover Talent: Justin Beere, Scott Rinker

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.