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The American car marque that seems most immersed in a relationship market ing program is the Saturn Corp. subsidiary of General Motors. Its advertising stresses the people who make, sell and buy Saturns more than the car.

In remarks to Saturn dealers last fall, GM Chairman John Smale shared his thoughts on the role of advertising in relationship marketing.

I'd like to offer a few comments on Saturn's approach to building a brand image through a consistent advertising strategy.

Having spent a good deal of my own career in brand marketing [at Procter & Gamble Co.], the message I want to leave with you is simple: Don't change what you're doing!

Saturn's advertising has created a unique brand positioning among all the other car brands vying for the consumer's attention. Its promise is unique and meaningful to consumers.

That promise is that this is the car to buy if you want a car that's built, sold and serviced by people who really care-people whose focus and No.*1 priority is to satisfy you and build and preserve a relationship with you, no matter what it takes.

It's unique among car and truck advertising I've seen. It doesn't rely on showing a car going around curves on a wet road. It works as an idea. It focuses on the relationship between the people involved in all aspects of the manufacturing and ownership process. That's what gives it that ... meaningful positioning in the consumer's mind.

The message the advertising conveys is the absolute dedication of the people of Saturn-including the retailer-and the resulting pride of Saturn buyers....

All the data I've seen show that the consumer's image of Saturn is the "caring" car company. That's the result of the advertising reinforcing the retailers' relationships with the owners. It results in word-of-mouth advertising from owners themselves. That's, of course, the best advertising there is.

But a lot of the impact is also attributable to Saturn's determination not to change its copy strategy.

And, the advertising has been effective because the same message and the same "look and feel" are carried through in print copy as well as television-and because you haven't varied from that message of its "look and feel."

Even the local retailer association advertising has carried through that same message, look and feel. With retailer association copy developed by the same [ad] agency [Hal Riney & Partners] that does the rest of Saturn advertising, you've created a consistent tone and focus.

The Saturn brand image, unlike most other automotive brands, is not diluted or, worse, contradicted by local advertising that is created independently by the retailer.

I can almost guarantee that there will be temptations in the future, when the business is under pressure, to detour from the established advertising strategy.

Don't give in to those pressures! You've built a brand equity of great value. Every time the consumer sees a Saturn ad, you increase the strength and value of that equity, that asset....

Whether you have a new model or not, and regardless of how heavily your competitors are into short-term promotional advertising, I urge you to stick with what you're doing. That's the way you maintain and strengthen that brand equity, and it will definitely pay off in the years ahead....

That's another reason not to change your current advertising strategy. The brand positioning you've developed in North America is already laying the foundation for the new opportunities that will emerge as Saturn develops a right-hand-drive car for export to Japan, Australia and other markets in Asia in the next few years.

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