Saturn, Hyundai looking younger

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Carmakers are shuffling nearly a half billion dollars in billings to drive the millennial generation into two brands, Saturn and Hyundai.

General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Corp. appears poised to drop its lifelong "Different kind of company, different kind of car" tagline with its new shop, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

What initially was a review for Saturn's key 2002 Ion small-car launch rolled into the whole account, with Goodby Silverstein landing the $300 million national and regional creative account. The agency continues with 49% GM-owned American Isuzu Motors' $40 million-to-$60 million account.

competitive edge

Omnicom Group President-CEO John Wren is proving adept at keeping competing cars in his garage. Omnicom shops work on DaimlerChrysler's U.S. accounts, Nissan North America and Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover North America; Omnicom services Volkswagen abroad.

Mr. Wren, as an executive at one of his agencies put it, "has one big high [voltage] wire in one hand and one in the other and they don't hook up to anything." Mr. Wren did not return calls for comment.

Goodby Silverstein prevailed in the Saturn review against incumbent Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco; Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York; Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York; and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Saturn Marketing Director Lisa Hutchinson praised the brand building work of incumbent Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, saying the agency's personalization of service, retail store concept and loyalty building marketing "helped make us an iconic brand, and we're grateful and very respectful of that; but this is more about where we want to go in the future."

younger crowd

Ms. Hutchinson expects the high-volume Ion to drop Saturn owners' median age from 44, though the new L-Series, Riney's last effort launching this summer, still appeals to older buyers and the Vue sport utility crosses the entire target.

Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe, issued a statement praising the San Francisco office's work. "It's very sad to see that great work is not enough nowadays," he said.

Hyundai Motor America, meanwhile, in a request for proposal issued last week for its $160 million national creative account, rising to over $200 million if dealers sign on, stated its goal to be "a tier one player like Toyota Motor Sales USA and American Honda Motor Co." with a more aspirational image and "desirable and defensible brand strategy and personality" for the next five-to-seven years. (Read the RFP: AdAge.com QwikFIND aan13d.)

Incumbent Cordiant Communications Group's Bates USA West, Irvine, Calif., the agency since the brand entered the U.S. in 1986, is defending and guaranteed a finalist slot. Contenders include Interpublic's Foote, Cone & Belding, Irvine, and San Francisco; Interpublic's Bozell, New York; and Richards Group, Dallas. Unsuccessful Saturn finalists Riney and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., may join the hunt.

None of the shops commented. Select Resources International is review consultant.

Last time two major car accounts were in play was 1997, with Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America and Mazda North American Operations.

Susan Jacobs, president of auto consultancy Jacobs & Associates, noted, however, "it's hard to see Hyundai coming close to [Toyota and Honda] in the next 10 years." The Saturn pitch poignantly pitted the creative bastions of the West Coast against each other for a shootout, including Wieden President Dan Wieden and Riney Chairman-CEO Hal Riney, the father of the Saturn brand and the man who financially helped support Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein when they broke away from his agency.

The day before he left for the pitch, Mr. Goodby said he called his old mentor "to have everybody feeling friendly." Mr. Riney returned the call, but the two never connected.

Agency Co-Chairmen Messrs. Goodby and Silverstein began their pitch by showing humorous concepts based on the scientific properties of ions. That approach, they then said, wouldn't work, nor would "mindless" current Ford and Mitsubishi ads showing young people in cars with music, or the current Saturn strategy focused on the company mystique.

Immediately after the pitch, as Mr. Silverstein hustled down a Detroit airport corridor, he was asked how the presentation went. "I don't want to say we kicked ass," Mr. Silverstein said. "But we kicked ass."

contributing: scott donaton, laurel wentz

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