New Saturn Work From Deutsch Turns The Page on Riney

Deutsch LA’s new TV ad (below)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.

But the new work from Deutsch tries to do just that. Here is part of a print ad, a 12-page insert that emcompasses the whole lineup, showing the Outlook SUV. The same image will be reprised in a TV spot in the next couple of months.

Eric Hirshberg, chief creative officer of Deutsch/LA says the agency researched 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.

The new Deutsch work is as modern looking, sounding and feeling as the new Saturn vehicles themselves. It’s encouraging for GM to see Deutsch and the Saturn management on the same page as far as where it is taking the brand.

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 (two models I would recommend to anyone), I would opt for the Saturns over the Toyotas and Hondas with which they compete. The Aura sedan is excellent too, but is more on par with Honda Accord than superior to it. Still, that’s pretty darn good.

Recent sales and market share numbers have been encouraging for Saturn. Overall sales through March were up 6.1%, while retail sales were up more than 12%. Saturn’s maarket share in 2007 was up from 1.4% in 2006 to 1.7%. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a 20% gain during a year when Saturn was phasing out older models and introducing new ones, and it saw its average transaction price climb by $7,000 compared with 2005.

That’s a lot of change in one brand to content with.

There is a lot of pressure on Saturn within GM to get sales moving upward at an even faster clip. 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 volumes up, even in this tough economic environment, the future investments aren’t going to be as generous as they have been in the last three or four years.

In the meantime, let’s see if the new advertising strategy from Deutsch can make people Rethink a brand that nearly twenty years ago was supposed to get consumer to rethink the way they thought about the whole of General Motors.

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