Saturn pits its L-Series against rivals in new ads

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Saturn Corp.'s L-Series line, which has seen lackluster sales since its debut last summer, is the focus of a new series of ads.

Despite the fact that only 24,456 of the models were sold in 1999, Pat Henry, national ad manager at Saturn, dubs last year's launch of the mid-size LS sedan and mid-size LW wagon "very successful." Ms. Henry also said the new spots, which started airing last month, were always in the plans to sustain the launch and do not mark an L-Series relaunch.

The first L-Series spot of 2000 from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, directly names the competition. It shows a Saturn dealer delivering the new LS sedan, Toyota Motor Sales USA's Camry and American Honda Motor Co.'s Accord to a prospect's home for test drives.

Ms. Henry said the spot shows Saturn's unique brand of customer care and positions the brand against imports.

A 60-second spot, which also has a :30 version, broke last week and touts the LS sedan's six-cylinder performance. In it, a male driver in a Honda Accord spots a Saturn LS sedan in his rearview mirror and encourages it to try to catch him. But the Saturn gains on him, so he gives up.

Ms. Henry said the commercials will continue through the model year on broadcast and cable network TV.

SLOW TAKEOFF

Work is under way for new executions of national magazine ads, due in late spring or early summer.

According to dealer Mike Lazarus, president of a chain of five Saturn stores on New York's Long Island, the launch ads didn't explain enough about the new model. Saturn was wrong to expect when they built a bigger car, buyers would simply flock to showrooms, Mr. Lazarus said, adding the model's slow takeoff was due partly to production problems at Saturn's new plant in Delaware.

Saturn spent $85 million in measured media behind the L-Series during the first nine months of 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The brand spent $209 million in measured media in calendar 1998.

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