Goodby's New Saturn Spot: Mediocrity Like Never Before

TV Work is an Absolute Surrender to Corporate Unimaginativeness

By Published on .

A winding mountain road?


To see the introduction of Saturn's Aura midsize sedan from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is to wonder where Goodby and Silverstein were when this thing was being produced. On vacation? Hospitalized? Guantanamo?

Absolute surrender
There hardly seems to be another explanation, other than maybe absolute surrender to the client's worst instincts, to shed light on why an agency of this caliber would have produced a generic TV commercial.

Look! A crash-test bulkhead! Look! A rugged fashion model squinting with driving intensity! Look! The California sunrise glinting into the lens! No surprise, of course, that a General Motors product introduction would embrace every single cliche of the auto-ad genre. This, in addition to losing money and shutting down factories, is what GM does. It's just amazing that Goodby went along for the ride. It's as if the creative team had been possessed by the spirit of Benton & Bowles.

And it's not just the imagery. It's the copy, too.

Advertising unimaginativeness
"There is a way to design a sedan that embraces the road and the driver," says the voice-over, finally, after the succession of shots cut and pasted from the annals of advertising unimaginativeness. "Introducing the 2007 Saturn Aura midsize sedan. Saturn. Like always. Like never before."

That's pretty funny. The paradoxical tagline happens to be correct, but in exactly the opposite way intended. This commercial is indeed like always-like brainless car intros have always been. And it is like never before in the sense that it is utterly devoid of the values and brand ethos that have undergirded every Saturn ad till now.

Oh, the car looks nice enough. But why in the world would GM run away from a brand culture painstakingly cultivated over 20 years to trot out yet another midsize sedan in a marketplace glutted with midsize sedans? And why would it go to one of the three best advertising agencies in the world to do it? This spot isn't a job for Goodby, Silverstein. It's a job for robots.

Google Earth
There are, of course, answers to all of those questions -- answers that would probably make you sad. Perhaps we should be grateful that GM allowed the agency to apply its vaunted skills to the online side of the creative. Here they allow the user to type in his zip code, whereupon Google Earth takes him from some vantage in space zooming in through the atmosphere to his own country, own state, own community and in through the front door of his (possibly) nearest Saturn dealer.

There the actual sales manager greets the customer and offers to show him around. It's amazing and creepy at the same time. The juxtaposition between the cutting-edge satellite-imaging technology and the right-out-of-central-casting car huckster is pretty hilarious, but mainly just cool.

This involved shooting scenes at 21 big Saturn outlets around the country (presumably with more to come) and integrating the footage seamlessly into the web interface. Would that such thinking, or even just style, had even slightly informed the TV intro. But no. In exactly the way GM has integrated the hitherto independent Saturn division into the corporate juggernaut-as-big-as-it-used-to-be, the company has forced Saturn advertising to use interchangeable parts. Gee, how will that work out?

Like always. Thanks to Goodby mediocrity like never before.

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Review: 1.5 stars
Marketer: Saturn
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Location: San Francisco
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