Saturn Lets Domestic Roots Show in 'Rethink American' Effort

Work From New Agency Deutsch Introduces Fourth Tagline in Five Year

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DETROIT ( -- Saturn, established by General Motors Corp. to convert buyers who considered buying an import, is now trumpeting its made-in-the-U.S. roots.

An outdoor image from Saturn's new 'Rethink American' effort from Deutsch.
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Saturn is rolling out a brand campaign from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, this week with the theme "Rethink American" that will run across national TV, print, online and out of home.

Consumer research
The new tagline, which will also be part of all product advertising, is Saturn's fourth since 2002. "Rethink American" was developed after extensive research with owners and non-owners in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angles, said Dan Keller, who became marketing director of Saturn in January. He said, "It was part of the learning process for me and Deutsch," which won the account in January without a review.

Consumers in the focus groups pegged Saturn as different. "We don't have all the baggage the domestic car companies have," Mr. Keller said. Consumers who saw an early version of the TV commercial said it made them "rethink what an American car company can do."

Over the past year or so, Saturn has broadened its lineup with more attractive models that are also pricier. This is a big shift from the "Different kind of car company" that rolled out in 1990 with affordable small cars and built a rock-solid image of sterling customer service.

Sales up 20%
When the new Astra small car (a derivative of an Opel model GM makes in Europe) arrives late this year, Saturn will have added five new models in 20 months. Saturn's U.S. sales jumped by nearly 20% through April to 77,030 units compared to a year ago, GM said.

"We are positioning the brand to grow dramatically," Mr. Keller said. "We need to appeal to a broader spectrum of people." Saturn's target consumer has evolved from people who intend to buy an import to "progressive-minded import intenders" who are willing to consider other options, he said.

Wes Brown, VP of consultant Iceology, credited Saturn with reinventing itself in a short time with new, more-stylish vehicles and an incredibly strong lineup. "It's a significant revolution Saturn has undergone, but now they've got to shift the brand." But he said changing people's perceptions of Saturn as a maker of affordable small cars is "difficult to overcome in one leap."

Drumming up the image of "American" could also backfire with people who don't like patriotism in their advertising -- and Saturn knows that. Mr. Brown said the ad strategy "may be a bit of a gamble, but if it works it could have a halo effect across GM."
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