Long snubbed by advertisers that would have otherwise seized the tennis star at her height of stardom, Martina Navratilova was finally embraced by Subaru of America after the company began courting the lesbian market in 1996.
The TV spot includes Martina among other female athletes with the "What Do I Know?" theme. The spot includes golfers Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon and Olympic skier Diann Roffe-Steinrotter.
Each asks, "What do I know" about performance, control, grip, etc. Martina gets the last word in, asking "What do we know? We're just girls."
Tim Bennett, Subaru's director of marketing programs, wants to dispel a few notions. "Everyone assumes it's a lesbian campaign because it's her and they thought those other women were too. But Martina doesn't want to be positioned as a lesbian. She just wants automakers to speak to women in an intelligent way, something else few others do even today."
Up until 2000, Navratilova won more tournaments (167) than any other player in history, male or female, and yet most advertisers were fearful of being endorsed by an open lesbian. She did have brief appearances for Apple Computer and The New York Times and now also pitches for Prince racquets.
Navratilova’s only regret is that it didn’t happen while she was still playing. “If I had been quiet about it, I would have had ads long before this,” she said. “It is a fact.” In an interview with The New York Times, she said, "All most other advertisers could see was the fact I'm a lesbian. Subaru doesn't care. They see me as everything I am."
One of the few marketers to do its own research into the gay market, the car company found, lo and behold, that lesbians love Subarus! So it entered the market in 1996 and remains one of the few major companies to target gay women, as well as the only with gay-specific market ads.
The company's print ads featured Subaru models sporting license plates with 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 for lesbians and gay men. The ads were also featured on billboards and bus shelters.