The global blitz debuted in Europe in February and in the U.S. last week.
"We spent a year and a half going into the brand itself before we even started writing the ads," said Kerry Feuerman, vice chairman at the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va..
He's serving as global co-creative director on Saab with Jari Ullakko, a partner at Lowe Brindefors, Stockholm, which created the global campaign with Martin. Martin handles Saab Cars USA; Lowe Brindefors is the lead agency for its Swedish parent.
The TV, print, outdoor and Web ads all use the new "Saab vs." something theme. For example, a Times Square board reads, "Saab vs. oxygen bars." The execution shows Saab's 9-3 convertible with the top down, indicating owners can get oxygen free, rather than buying it at the trendy, new places.
Saab asked owners around the world to define the brand as well as themselves. The findings revealed common owner psychographics, said Mikael Eliasson, Saab brand management director in Sweden. He said Saab owners are active, affluent and educated. They embrace technology, prefer educational TV and shy away from conventional status symbols.
Saab will spend 20% to 25% more on advertising worldwide this year than last, Mr. Eliasson said, though declining to be more specific.
In the U.S., Saab spent $52.2 million in 1998, compared to $49.3 million in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
The research also revealed owners saw the brand's vehicles as dynamic, distinctively styled, high-performance, outstandingly safe and inspired by Saab's Scandinavian heritage, said Joel Manby, president of Saab USA.
But the difference between Saab and other auto marketers, Mr. Manby added, is how Saab fashions insightful solutions when developing its cars.
Mr. Manby said: "We asked ourselves, 'What is it we can own?' It's what we always owned-the way we think."
The executions pose "riddles," including "Saab vs. parenthood" and "Saab vs. the puritans." Ad copy or voice-over in the first three spots explain Saab's solutions.
"The campaign gets more powerful the more you're exposed to it," Mr. Feuerman said. "It's what we put after the 'vs.' that makes the campaign interesting."
Saab expects to use the 'Vs.' theme for three to five years. The key is to keep dreaming up fresh executions, Mr. Feuerman said.
The brand is following a new strategy on media buying in the U.S., with the launch of the "Vs.' blitz, to get more focused. Saab is eliminating network TV to concentrate on 10 cable networks, Mr. Manby said.
The magazine roster has been cut to 20 from 30, but Saab will advertise more often in those more-targeted titles. Spending in national newspapers, radio and direct mail will rise dramatically, and ad spending on the Internet will quadruple.
The auto marketer will do seven national promotions this year, up from one in 1998. It's sponsoring National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." Saab also is the worldwide sponsor of "Extreme-Filmed With Imax Cameras," a film about perilous outdoor adventures.
GLOBAL CAR CAMPAIGNS
Global car campaigns have flopped in the past. Andreas Rosenlew, Saab's worldwide account director and senior partner at Lowe Brindefors, recalled good friends who worked on Volvo's global campaign early this decade. "The strategy [for Volvo], which led to the creative, wasn't clearly stated, so the campaign was a failure," he said.
Volvo's latest global attempt-which started last year from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York-seems to be working. Volvo sold 101,171 units in 1998, up 11.3% from the year earlier, according to Automotive News.
Saab USA tallied unit sales of 8,384 during the first quarter, up 51% from the same period a year ago. In calendar 1998, Saab said it sold 30,757 cars, an 8.1%