Saturn Brand Expands Orbit With Its Own Social Network

Online Community Pulls in 1,200 Members in Its First Three Weeks

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- The General Motors Corp.'s Saturn brand has always been built on the concept of community. Now it's creating one on the web.
ImSaturn: Users can read news, send photos, upload videos, chat with other members, play video games or recommend music.
ImSaturn: Users can read news, send photos, upload videos, chat with other members, play video games or recommend music.

The auto brand has begun a social-networking site, ImSaturn, which has pulled in 1,200 members in its first three weeks. Saturn originally expected to attract 1,000 people in six months. "Our estimate," said a spokesman, "was a little off."

The plan is to grow the membership ranks by adding a link from Saturn.com, said Advertising Manager Dave Koziara. To get the word out initially, the marketer contacted a handful of Saturn fan sites, and Jill Lajdziak, general manager of the brand, wrote about the site's debut on GM's FastLane blog.

The 'face' of Saturn
ImSaturn, which Mr. Koziara said "puts a face on who we are," is for owners, enthusiasts and friends, a place where members can read Saturn news, send photos, upload videos, chat with other members, play video games or post music recommendations. Members can join or form groups based on their interests. The site's biggest groups last week were the 128-member Sky group and the 122-member Tuners Club. Those two were among the 20 the site said were the most active.

Saturn can gauge members' reactions to new or past advertising on the site. The marketer posted ads from its "Rethink" campaign last week when a national TV spot from Deutsch, Los Angeles, broke.

Two of the advertising and marketing group's 18 members last week praised Hal Riney & Co.'s 1991 intro ads for the brand and agreed that Saturn did the right thing by shortening Deutsch's year-old "Rethink American" tag for Saturn to just "Rethink." Bobby wrote, "None of the Saturn ads for the past eight years have the magic, emotional drive, pride and content the early years had." Kat wrote, "I'd actually say the ads from 2003 to 2005 were the most pitiful ones they've had. In 2007, some of the ads were really outstanding. The new ads, I think, are really speaking to the people who are ready to listen to a new idea from Saturn."

Dan Keller, the brand's marketing director, said the networking site is "just another example of rethinking how we communicate. It feels very Saturn to do this."

Fran O'Hagan, president of sales and marketing firm Piped Piper Management Co., said Saturn may be hoping the community "will be a surrogate" for a reduced ad budget. "They have some wonderful products right now that people aren't aware of," said Mr. O'Hagan, a former product manager at Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Ford.

Gens X and Y
In 2007, Saturn spent $279 million in measured media vs. $156 million in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence. It spent only $13 million in measured media in January (excluding outdoor); Mr. Koziara said the brand has been heavy into sales promotions since December's year-end sale.

Saturn has narrowed its main target to Gen X and Gen Y women, he said, and to reach them, it has "redeployed resources into print and digital, with deeper dives in those areas," he said. The dollars are being reallocated from TV, although Saturn isn't abandoning the medium, just using more-targeted programs with more frequency.

But the move to create community goes beyond the web. Mr. Keller said he's "dialing up marketing promotions and taking the products to the people," with displays at malls and races. Saturn will be on virtually every movie screen in America in June with ads for its Aura and Vue models. Saturn also is sponsoring Bon Jovi's Lost Highway Tour; people on Saturn.com can sign up for exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the tour. He said Saturn is using "a lot of print," including a 12-page spread arriving in July magazines, and "extensive digital page takeovers on portals."

Saturn, which sold the same basic small car for most of the 1990s, dramatically broadened its lineup during the past 20 months. It now has three cars -- Aura, Astra and Sky -- and two truck crossovers, Vue and Outlook; it's phasing out the Ion small car and Relay minivan.

Saturn sold 48,306 new vehicles in the U.S. through March vs. 57,053 in the same period a year ago. But the spokesman said Saturn's first-quarter retail sales, which comprise vehicles sold only to consumers rather than to businesses such as rental-car companies or the government, jumped more than 12% in a down market for the industry.
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