SATURN GENERATES BIG HOPES FOR REJUVENATION VIA MIDSIZE LS

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The stakes already were high as Saturn Corp. approached the launch of its first midsize vehicle line, the L series. But when Saturn officials discussed the ad campaign that breaks today, they kept raising the ante.

"We're not just launching a car," said Director of Marketing Lisa Hutchinson last week. "We're relaunching the Saturn brand."

Jill Lajdziak, Saturn VP-sales, service and marketing, said the General Motors Corp. subsidiary wants to take customers away from two of the auto industry's most-respected models.

"We're going right at [Toyota] Camry and [Honda] Accord with this vehicle," she said.

FRESHENING THE LINEUP

The L series launch is vital to Saturn's desire to freshen its product lineup and grow beyond a small-car brand. And it's sparing little expense in an elaborate three-stage introductory campaign, from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, in the automaker's typical low-key style.

While declining to reveal the spending level for the campaign, Ms. Hutchinson said it will consume most of Saturn's budget this year, which would be higher than last year's. Saturn spent $209 million in measured media in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Teaser ads break today on Fox's

"Ally McBeal," pushing the tagline, "The next big thing from Saturn." The car, which moves into dealerships July 8, is not shown. Instead, a large dog, a family seen from underwater in a swimming pool and a large pair of jeans hanging on a clothesline are meant to suggest bigness. In a motif also seen in magazine ads, clothing "sizes" S-M-LS-XL appear, with the LS highlighted.

The teaser effort runs through July-"hopefully not so long as to be annoying," in Ms. Hutchinson's words-and will be followed by the "reveal" phase showing the car.

The cornerstone will be a TV spot called "The Road" that retells the Saturn story in 60- and 90-second versions. Narrated by actor Danny Glover, the commercial aims to "bring Saturn's personality to a new group of people," Ms. Hutchinson said.

The L series, both an LS sedan and an LW wagon, targets people ages 35 to 49, married, college-educated, with one or two young children and a household income of more than $55,000.

REAL CARS TO HANG ON BILLBOARDS

The actual launch, starting soon after the "reveal" phase, will include outdoor boards with real cars hung on them. Located in Times Square, on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and near the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the boards will reflect Saturn's plan to win buyers on both coasts, said Ms. Hutchinson.

Other launch ads show potential LS buyers moving into a new, more adult phase of their lives. A print ad and TV spot feature a fictional character nervously taking on his first management position, with the tag, "Management. The next big thing for Mike Wilmot. LS. The next big thing from Saturn."

Launch ads are scheduled to run through the fall, but may be extended to spring 2000.

Ms. Lajdziak would not give a sales target, but said she expects the Wilmington, Del., plant making the L series to be operating at full capacity, about 210,000 vehicles per year, by the end of the third quarter. In 1998, Saturn sold 231,786 vehicles, a 7.7% drop from 1997, according to Automotive News.

"It's not about adding another 50,000 or 100,000 units," Ms. Lajdziak said. "It's about essentially doubling the size of our company."

As Saturn launches the L series, changes within the company raise questions about whether it will remain "a different kind of car company." Several aspects of Saturn's carefully tended image are different this time around.

RETOOLED PLANT

For instance, while "The Road" spot reprises images of workers in the company's Spring Hill, Tenn., plant, the L series will be built in a retooled GM plant. And Saturn has faced turbulence in its team-oriented relationship with the United Auto Workers. The new L series is based on an existing platform from the GM family, the Opel Vectra, rather than being Saturn-designed from the ground up.

Saturn officials counter those concerns by praising the European handling of the L series and saying Wilmington workers have been trained in the Saturn way of making cars. But, Ms. Hutchinson added, the emphasis on Spring Hill in advertising is likely to fade.

"I think, as we go forward, you'll hear us talk about the people who build Saturn and the pride they take in building Saturn. But we'll probably be a little more generic about location," she said.

Some automotive observers dismiss the concerns.

Jim Hall, VP-industry analysis, at consultancy AutoPacific, noted that most car buyers don't know, or care, where their cars are built.

"It's going to be a Saturn, just a bigger Saturn," he said.

Saturn will launch its remodeled S series this fall. A TV spot, called "Eight Bucks," shows a twentysomething male skimping on fast-food and using another customer's leftover time on a laundromat drier to conserve money for his Saturn.

That ad is meant to show how Saturn will differentiate the two models, pushing S

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