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The "experiment" is over for Saturn.

The General Motors Corp. unit has redesigned its vehicles for the 1996 model year, and as part of an estimated $50 million campaign that breaks Aug. 14 is taking on critics who said Saturn couldn't survive.

"We are intending to maintain Saturn's uniqueness as a company and reinforce that we are a company-not an experiment," said Mary Wernette, Saturn's national advertising manager-sales, service & marketing.

In one print ad featuring Saturn employees, created by Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, the headline reads, "Hey, wait a second, we were supposed to be out of business by now."

A 60-second TV spot takes the same attitude. A factory worker says, "We were called an experiment . . . What someone figured out is that there's something more important than machinery and equipment if you want to get a good product out the door. It's about people and their struggle to do something they've always wanted to do, but never had the chance."

When Saturn was started, its mission was to find new ways of doing business in the automotive industry and to transfer that knowledge to its parent company.

Now going on its sixth year in the business, Saturn has been recognized by GM's Ronald Zarrella, group VP in charge of sales, service and marketing, as a model for brand building .

In the latest GM move to import Saturn values to other divisions, Saturn Director of Consumer Marketing Steve Shannon this week takes over as Oldsmobile's general marketing manager.

Sales wise, Saturn is doing pretty well. In 1994, the automaker boosted its sales 24.7% to 286,003 units.

With all the changes taking place, Saturn wants to make sure consumers know the company philosophy is still intact.

"In the advertising, we want consumers to know the car has changed for sure, but the brand has not changed in terms of issue and values," said Steven Morrissey, senior VP-account director at Riney.

The campaign retains the tagline, "A different kind of company, a different kind of car."

To introduce the redesign, the ads take consumers back to Spring Hill to ask the local townspeople if they had any input into the improved features such as sportiness, noise reduction and headroom.

For example, one 30-second spot asks the local librarian if she told Saturn to make its new 1996 model quieter.

A 90-second spot tells a story of the Spring Hill plant being shut down to improve some things, like giving employees new safety glasses and beefing up the lunch menu and very subtly mentions the redesigned Saturn.

The voice-over says, "Oh, and while we were at it, we thought we might just make some improvements in the car as well."

Other spots include one 30-second rendition of a consumer picking up her first Saturn, from the dealership washing the car to the customer having her picture taken with the new purchase.

This campaign was devised by a redesigned creative leadership at Riney.

Four creative directors worked on the effort-Senior VP-Creative Directors Steve Stone and Dave O'Hare, formerly at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and Steve Baer and James Dalthroup, who have left Riney.

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