George Lois directing Masaichi Kaneda
CRAZY LOIS AND HIS JAPANESE BALLPLAYER.
Did you ever hear of Subaru? In 1974 we were asked to promote this terrific Japanese car because back on the Yokohama docks, unsold Subarus were piling up like Zeros after World War II. To blast the Subaru into public awareness, I signed up Masaichi Kaneda, the third winningest pitcher of all time, as their advertising spokesman. Kaneda would have become so famous in the United States, he would have made Japanese baseball credible and famous. (We produced commercials with Lou Brock, Gaylord Perry, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin telling America of Kaneda’s greatness. And I helped get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the only foreigner at the time to receive that honor.)
In sessions with the American Baseball Commissioner’s office, we plotted a blueprint for a true World Series, between our winning team and Japan’s, all based on the advertising for this unknown Japanese car, with all of its extraordinary publicity accruing to Subaru.
But their dealers in America wanted immediate movement, period (which they got). Unfortunately, they had little patience beyond that for any master plan to make Subaru one of the world’s best-selling cars, which would have come to pass. Logically then, when Subaru sales began to improve, their shortsighted dealers (a redundancy) kamikazied the campaign.
When Kaneda went back to Tokyo and Subaru went to another agency, Ad Age asked me to speak my piece. I said, “Now people will talk about that crazy Lois and his Japanese ballplayer. Which makes it harder to get away with imaginative campaigns the next time.” Subaru was one of the best campaigns I ever did. Not only would it have sold the hell out of this unknown car, it would also have created an event to dwarf the Superbowl. And Subaru would have been the superstar of imported cars.