NON-COMFORMITY SPARKS SAAB

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For the past several years, Saab has tried to convince consumers it was a mainstream car brand, stressing attributes like engineering and safety.

Now, the Swedish importer has decided to embrace its reputation as a car line beloved by non-conformists, not run away from it. The strategy unfolds in a visually arresting campaign using impressionistic animation and themed "Find your own road," breaking April 4 on ABC's "NYPD Blue."

In an environment of look-alike cars and car advertising, the five new commercials from Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York, are as unique, and quirky, as the on-the-floor ignition lock of a Saab 900. The warm-colored animation is based on illustrations created for Saab by French artist Jeanne-Philippe Delhomme.

The campaign, taking in network, cable and spot TV; 33 national and eight regional magazines; spot radio; and outdoor, will be backed by an estimated $35 million marketing budget, up 26% from 1994. It's a key part of Saab's ambitious drive to sell 35,000 cars in the U.S. this year, a 62% increase from 1994.

The campaign fits an embryonic cultural trend to celebrate unconventionality, said David Krysiek, director-marketing for Norcross, Ga.-based Saab Cars USA. Parent company Saab-Scania AB is a 50-50 joint venture of Sweden's Saab Automobile AB and General Motors Corp.

"Research companies tell us we're moving into a period where people feel good about their choices because it fits their own self-concept rather than social conventions," Mr. Krysiek said.

The new advertising reinforces the idea that a Saab is the choice of someone who wants to break away from the pack.

One spot, for instance, features a man who considers what it would be like to never shave again, to take a year off from his job and to always say what he really thinks. Free-flowing visuals show him floating through clouds and then driving through a colorful landscape as voice-over says, "While you're considering these options, driving a Saab is a very good start."

"Saab is known for safety, performance, uniqueness and versatility, but we didn't really own any of those propositions," said John Kramer, VP-sales and marketing. "We have our products in place, and now we have to raise the brand to stand for something strong."

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