The changes, said National Advertising Manager Mary Ellen Miller, are an evolution rather than a major strategy change.
"Saturn needs to continue to be Saturn," she said.
The 1998-model spots, however, won't use as many actual owners as in past years. Instead, national and regional TV spots focus more on employees and Saturn's philosophy.
Saturn's ad budget will stay about the same, Ms. Miller said, declining to be more specific. In 1996, Saturn spent about $185 million in measured media, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
It also will be easier this year to distinguish between Saturn's national ads and regional efforts, both handled by Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco. This year, regional spots all will be shot in b&w.
"We wanted to stand out," said Stephen McGuire, regional and relationship marketing manager at Saturn.
A trio of regional spots are being shipped to dealer regions this week and are likely to air before the national ads, he said.
Sixty-second, color versions of the regional spots are being made for national use. The spots shows Saturn worker Doc Payne, who inspects every Saturn before it leaves the Spring Hill, Tenn., plant; Ray Wood, who works on the Saturn farm next to the plant; and Richard Hanna, a dealership detailer who prepares cars for new owners.
Three other national spots still in the works spotlight a Saturn plant worker who is afraid of flying in a plane going to meet a supplier to improve the cars; a fictional, young male Saturn owner, who makes unnecessary service stops at dealers to get free doughnuts; and a spoof of one of the U.S. government teams who came to Saturn to learn how to improve their procedures.
For the second year, the marketer will produce more spots later in the model year, Mr. Miller said.
"Buck," the offbeat spokesman played by Jim Gaffigan in spots earlier this year, is likely to make an appearance later in the model year because he tested well with young males.
New this year on the print side is a series of four executions Saturn dubs "continuum." The esoteric-looking spreads show a simple, scenic photograph and timeline with simple words or questions at each end. Several more questions are across the bottom; there are no cars or headlines in the ads.
The "continuum" print ads will be mixed with more traditional-looking Saturn spreads, which break in October monthlies.
"We're trying to attract people who don't know us as well as our core customers," said John Howell, marketing director at Saturn.
Saturn said its average buyer is 42 years old; 63% are female. The average household income is $60,252 and 56% are college graduates.
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The carmaker is targeting thirtysomething, educated, import intenders. The marketer hopes to reach more men by adding several magazines to its roster, including P.O.V. from Freedom Communications and Dennis Publishing's Maxim.
Saturn's sales during the first seven months of 1997 slid nearly 7%, to 153,713, vs. a year ago. Car sales this year generally have declined.
Saturn's limited product lineup has hurt its sales, said auto consultant James Hall, VP-analysis at AutoPacific.
"They have entry-level products, but the entry-level market is a pass-through market," he said, adding that when Saturn owners want a bigger or fancier car, they have to look elsewhere.
Saturn plans to introduce a larger sedan in a few years.