Saab Declares a ‘State of Independence’ in New Ads

$100 mil. campaign backs expansion of model lineup

With new models set for 2004 and an almost 70 percent boost in ad spending planned, Saab Cars USA is seeking to evolve beyond a niche brand and shake its reputation for unprofitability.

Part of the problem has been that the General Motors division has traditionally offered only two models. But for 2004, Saab will introduce a new convertible and an entry-level compact car. The convertible is one of the cars featured in a $100 million ad campaign breaking today from Lowe in New York.

Six TV spots, four print ads and five radio spots introduce the theme, “The state of independence.” This is Lowe’s first big branding campaign for Saab since taking the U.S. account from The Martin Agency in 2001.

The ads emphasize words like freedom, independence, opportunity and innovation, which “describe the spirit of company as well as the people who drive its cars,” said Hans Krondahl, vp of marketing at Saab in Atlanta. “We have always been challenging convention. We’re an independent company,” said Krondahl, adding, “Our consumers are strong individuals—strong, independent-thinking people.”

Previous spots, which touted the power of turbo-charged engines, bore no tagline.

Each of the new spots, directed by Tony Kaye, features a Saab on a curvy road framed by mountains. Interspersed are stylized close-ups of wheels, engine cylinders, a rippling Saab flag and, in one spot, “Turbo,” still photos of smiling drivers.

In “What If,” the car appears against a screen of grainy video footage, while a male voice says, “There’s a state that’s utterly free, where the national pastime is the game of ‘What if?’ ” Thus begins a litany of “What if?” thoughts, including, “What if all cars were turbo-charged?” The spot ends with the line, “Saabs are made in the state of independence where freedom is held as tightly as the road.”

Compared to previous spots, the new work feels more atmospheric, with saturated colors, clouds and dawn and dusk lighting.

“We didn’t want to shoot in an environment or create an environment that wasn’t real,” said Gary Goldsmith, Lowe chairman and chief creative officer. “The point is that when you’re in a car, this is the world you’re in. But when you’re in this car, the experience is heightened.”

Saab, which competes with Audi, Volvo, BMW and Mercedes, sold 37,805 cars in the U.S. last year, according to Ward’s. (BMW and Mercedes sold 189,290 and 170,431 cars, respectively.) Globally, Saab has struggled with profitability, and a client rep acknowledged that the car maker will not break even until at least 2004.

This year’s U.S. sales figures are encouraging. Saab sold 10,885 cars in the first quarter, the most of any first quarter in its history. Sales in April of 4,967 cars set a record for a single month, Krondahl said.

This year’s media budget is up from more than $60 million in media spending last year and about $30 million in 2001, according to CMR.