Move Comes as Automaker Experiences Sales Slump

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DETROIT ( -- Saturn, which built its image around customer care, introduces a new advertising tagline in a brand TV campaign breaking today.

Saturn, part of General Motors Corp., is replacing its current ad tagline "It's different in a Saturn" with "People First." The automaker decided to drop the tagline because it wanted to explain the "It's different" positioning in better detail, said Scott McLaren, advertising manager at the brand. "People understood it, but it lacked some definition."

Replacing a replacement
Several other taglines from the marketer's

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ad agency, Omnicom Group’s Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, were tested, but "'People First' resonated the best," Mr. McLaren said. The tagline being replaced, "It's different in a Saturn," itself was a replacement for the automaker's longtime theme, "A different kind of car company," created by Saturn's first ad agency, Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco. The agency had the account since 1990, when the first Saturns rolled out, until losing the business to Goodby in 2002.

One new spot, dubbed "Philosohpy," is reminiscent of ads in Saturn's earlier days. "Treat others the way you'd want to be treated," the ad's narrator says. The ad also mentions Saturn's "no hassle, no haggle" buying process. The commercials will appear on national broadcast, cable and syndicated TV.

Shift in strategy
The new campaign marks a shift in strategy. Saturn introduced new ads in fall 2002 that focused on styling and safety. The first brand effort from Goodby, titled "Sheet Metal," was a minute-long carless car commercial set to a piano score. The ad showed people on roads, pulling out of driveways, stopping at traffic lights, only without a car. At the end of the ad, a narrator explains: "When we design cars, we don't see sheet metal. We see the people who may someday drive them. ... It's different in a Saturn."

Before "sheet Metal" broke, Jamie Barrett, a creative director at Goodby, told "The time we spent not showing the car is not gratuitous. It's reminding people we put people first. We just needed to find a powerful expression of that."

Saturn spent $196 million in measured media in the first 11 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Wes Brown, an auto analyst at Iceology, said Saturn clearly feels its customer care, no haggling on prices and polymer body panels are the most important parts of its heritage to use to differentiate itself from competitors.

The retail experience
"This brand doesn't have a sustaining strategy if it focuses on the retail experience," Jill Lajdziak, vice president of sales service and marketing at Saturn, said in 2002. "The retail experience will still be the pillar of our brand, but we have to make sure people love our product as much as the experience."

The new campaign comes as sales of Saturn continue to slip. The automaker announced last week that sales in the first two months of 2004 dropped by 23% vs. a year ago to 31,141 units. Last year, Saturn sold 271,157 vehicles, a 3.2% drop from 2002, according to sibling Automotive News.

The L series
Saturn was hamstrung by a lack of new models after its debut in 1990. It sold various iterations of the same S Series small car until 1999, when GM gave it the mid-size L Series. But that model line has struggled making inroads in one of the industry's most competitive categories, which features Toyota Motor Sales USA's Camry and American Honda Motor Co.'s Honda Accord.

Saturn said sales of the L Series plummeted by 73% to 3,830 units in the first two months of 2004 vs. a year ago, and to 64,957 units in for all of 2003 vs. 81,172 in 2002.

Saturn is pulling the plug early on the L Series, ending production this summer instead of next year, but the automaker has additional models in the pipeline. The Relay sport van is due this fall, and a sports car is planned for 2006, followed by a sport utility vehicle that is larger than its current marque, Vue.

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