Most-Improved Awards Go to Saturn, Mazda

Study: Prospective Car Buyers Changed Their Perceptions of Those Brands

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DETROIT ( -- Saturn, Lincoln, Suzuki, Mazda and Buick most improved their brand perceptions with men in the past two years.
Saturn's Sky roadster.
Saturn's Sky roadster.

Saturn, a General Motors Corp. brand, saw the biggest improvement since 2005 among men who have said they intend to buy a new car in recently released findings from CNW Marketing Research. CNW found that the percentage of men who said they had negative feelings about Saturn dropped 20 percentage points, while the number who said they had a positive attitude toward the brand doubled to a staggering 93%.

"Saturn had been perceived for a long time as a girl's car," said CNW President Art Spinella. He cited new models such as the Saturn Sky roadster and the brand's Red Line, performance versions of current models, along with changes in ad messaging, as reasons for the change in perception.

New ad theme
Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, assumed creative duties on the account in January without a review, and last month the agency got Saturn's online account. In May, the agency developed a new ad theme, "Rethink American," which replaced the year-old "Like always. Like never before" from Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

CNW's findings are also good news for GM's Buick brand, which has struggled for more than a decade to attract younger buyers. "Buick finally has some products that are starting to click," Mr. Spinella said, citing the new Enclave crossover.

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA's new Los Angeles office assumed the reins of Buick's creative account this fall after GM shifted it from its longtime shop, Interpublic's McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich.

Mazda showed the most improvement among women auto prospects from 2005 to 2007, followed by Buick, Saab, Suzuki and Acura, CNW said. Among women who intend to buy a new car, 12% fewer had negative feelings about Mazda, while the number with a positive attitude toward the brand was up 22%.

Independent Doner, Southfield, Mich., and Irvine, Calif., is Mazda's creative agency.

Targeting better
The improvements in brand perceptions won't translate to immediate spikes in sales, but they mean consumers won't reject the brands out of hand. The attitude changes can also help marketers target better, Mr. Spinella said. Advertisers need to persuade these converts to put the brands on their shopping lists.

Changing consumers' minds for the better about an auto brand takes time. "For most brands, it's a little at a time," Mr. Spinella said, which is why the brands with the double-digit jumps are impressive. "Very rarely does it happen fast."

Volkswagen of America's VW brand is struggling, especially with men. CNW revealed positive brand perception for VW among males had dropped 12% since 2005 -- the most of any auto brand. Mr. Spinella said at least VW has a lot of people "neutral" about the brand, and that way "at least you can get people to consider your brand."
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