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Three agencies, including incumbent Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York, are vying for Saab Cars USA's estimated $50 million account.

The other contenders are the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco. A decision is expected sometime after April 1. The Swedish automaker may split the account along its two car lines, giving one agency the 900 line and another the 9000 model, said Dave Krysiek, Saab marketing director.


Mr. Krysiek maintained Saab is pleased with Angotti's work and the results of its animated "Find your own road" campaign, launched in spring 1995. He said Saab owners and non-owners like the advertising by a margin of 20-to-1, and Saab's unit sales are up 31% since the campaign began. The review doesn't necessarily mean the animated ads are history.

But the brand wants to attract older, wealthier buyers when it introduces the successor to the 9000, the 9-5 sedan, next year. The average Saab owner is in his late 30s, Mr. Krysiek said. First-time Saab buyers, who prefer the 900 model, are in their late 20s.

"As our 900 owners get older and more affluent, we want to follow them," Mr. Krysiek said.

Saab has big plans. It sold 28,439 cars last year in the U.S., and wants to sell 40,000 by 2000. Such increases would be welcome news to parent Saab Automobile AB, which had a $168 million loss last year, citing higher marketing costs, the stronger krona and higher vehicle development costs.

Two of the Saab contenders have ties that may have helped them get into the review. Both Angotti and Martin are part of Interpublic Group of Cos. Under Interpublic's umbrella, Martin is owned by the Lowe Group, whose Lowe Brindfors, Stockholm, handles Saab ads outside the U.S.

Riney handles General Motors Corp.'s $130 million-plus Saturn account, but could keep that if it wins Saab, since GM owns half of Saab AB and has the right to acquire the entire company by 2000.

Several ex-Saturn managers joined Saab last summer, including Joel Manby, now Saab USA president-CEO, and John Orth, VP-sales and retail network development. Mr. Manby is bringing some of Saturn's practices to Saab.


Mr. Krysiek said there's been no pressure for a review from GM's Ronald Zarrella, the group VP of sales, service and marketing at North American Operations who has pushed GM divisions to improve marketing. Mr. Zarrella also sits on the board of Saab AB.

Saab dealers said the review stems from management changes and dealer pressure.

"I think there's a general consensus [among dealers] that the animated campaign has gone beyond its time," one dealer said.

Auto consultant Robert Sinclair, who retired five years ago as Saab USA chairman, believes it's a mistake to change agencies and the animated ads so soon.

"They're doing niche marketing of a very special product," Mr. Sinclair said. "I want people to either love or hate my advertising. The last thing I'd want is to be in the middle of some bell curve where everyone finds it not offensive."

Mr. Sinclair, who headed Saab USA when it tapped Angotti for the account in 1990, said the animated Saab ads have cut through the clutter of car advertising.

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