SAAB SPOTLIGHTS HERITAGE IN ADS PLANNED BY MARTIN

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Saab dealers last week got their first look at the car marketer's new ad strategy, a technology-inspired approach focusing more on the uniqueness of its cars than the uniqueness of its cars' owners.

That's the report from Saab dealers who attended the first of three U.S. regional meetings with Saab Cars USA in which the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., show-ed slides of planned ads. The advertising hasn't actually been produced yet.

Martin won the estimated $50 million account in March.

PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES

One slide showed a 1998 Saab next to a new, high-tech fighter jet, also made by Saab. The shot is a takeoff on a vintage photo of Saab's first car, the 92, taken in 1947 next to the J21 plane from Swedish Aircraft Co., Saab's predecessor. The b&w photo of the aircraftmaker's first car is well-known in auto circles.

"They want to leverage the fact that Saab is the only auto company in the world that makes supersonic fighter jets, just like the Big 3 [U.S. carmakers] show how their involvement in auto racing is applied to their passenger automobiles," said one dealer who attended the meeting.

The animated commercials that have run since April 1995, from previous Saab agency Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York, will disappear, the dealers said. Angotti's successful "Find your own road" tag will be phased out.

Saab Director of Communications Elke Martin said the agency's slide presentation only showed "concepts simulating the tonality of the campaign."

The fall campaign will include teaser ads for the new 9-5, Ms. Martin said, though the sedan won't reach U.S. showrooms until `98.

Martin's ads seem to mesh with what Saab President-CEO Joel Manby said he was seeking when he spoke to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit in late February.

"Our heritage is part of what we are and how we're different" from other carmakers, he said.

The 9-5 refers to the number series that began with early Swedish Aircraft plane models 90 and 91, and "keeps the aircraft heritage," Mr. Manby explained.

MORE PRODUCT FOCUS

He called for more product focus in advertising, saying, "Now we're talking about the person who buys the car."

Mr. Manby, formerly central regional manager of Saturn Corp., said: "If we rely too heavily on individualistic positioning, that doesn't give credence to the company."

Instead, he wants Saab's image to change "from rebel to leader, from quirky to purposeful and irreverent to confident."

Saab, Mr. Manby added, shouldn't be a "small cult, specialist or quaintly odd" brand.

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