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New Saturn Ads Try To Turn The Page on Riney

Deutsch LA’s new TV ad for Saturn is an attempt to turn the page for Saturn, from heartfelt brand of small town America to hip, fashionable brand for positive change.

Saturn has long been conflicted between the Hal Riney “Spring Hill Tennessee” strategy that launched the brand 17 years ago, and the modern Saturn that includes an acclaimed SUV that can run you close to $40,000. It’s hard to walk away from that legacy, which is the stuff of advertising case studies and part of the Riney legend.

Read: “Saturn Rethinks Itself—Again.”

But Eric Hirshberg, chief creative officer of Deutsch/LA says the agency research the heck out of Saturn in the last six to nine months and found that the target buyers for Saturn’s Outlook, Aura sedan, Sky roadster, Vue SUV and Astra sub-compact viewed the “Main Street” approach as being out of step with the current lineup. Moreover, attention to Saturn’s dealer service (the one quality measure Saturn excels in) is often viewed as covering up an inferior product lineup. Ouch!

It is difficult to kiss off a brand positioning, or creative strategy that is studied in B-schools. But Deutsch and Saturn’s current management have to look at the “now,” and not the “then.” As great as the Riney stuff was, that work actually was making up for the fact that the actual Saturn vehicle it launched was inferior to the state-of-the-art Japanese vehicles and was more like the best of what the Koreans had.

Though Saturn still needs to do better on J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study and Vehicle Dependability Study, the current state of product is competitive with any products on the market. And in some cases, like the Outlook and Sky, I would opt for the Saturns over the Toyotas and Hondas. The Aura sedan is excellent too, but is more on par with Honda Accord than superior to it.

There is a lot of pressure on Saturn within GM to get sales moving upward. The product is as good as its ever going to be. And GM has eight brands to feed and dress. If Saturn can’t move sales up, even in this tough economic environment, the future investments aren;t going to be as generous as they have bene in the last three or four years.

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