Saturn Says, ‘Rethink American’

LOS ANGELES General Motors’ Saturn invites consumers to “Rethink American” in work from Deutsch/LA that broke yesterday during prime-time programming.

Deutsch’s new anthem spot for Saturn, in both 30- and 60-second executions, mixes bold imagery, a driving rock beat and handsome product shots—all set against time-lapsed blue skies.

The spot contrasts easy stereotypes (bling-encrusted knuckles, heroin-chic goth girls, billowing smokestacks and body-building mesomorphs) with cultural flashpoints (a hand with a wedding band, a mother and infant, a solar-power grid and a triumphant Lance Armstrong).

There is no voiceover; titles convey much of the message, noting the 100,000-mile warranty on each vehicle, plus Saturn’s claim to offer the “most affordable hybrid” car on the market.

The “Rethink” theme is extended into print, outdoor and online work, including billboards with headlines like “Rethink Supersize” (accompanying Saturn’s Outlook SUV) and magazine ads with copy challenging buyers’ preconceived notions on any number of subjects.

“Saturn is seen as a new car company,” said Eric Hirshberg, CCO at Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif. “We [at Deutsch] know it has been around for a long time and we think of this as a relaunch. But it got us thinking about how few new car companies, especially new American car companies, there are.”

The “Rethink American” campaign attempts “to recast a cultural moment in America through the lens of the American car,” Hirshberg said. “Saturn can’t operate as an automotive company; it has to operate on the cultural level.”

The goal, he said, was to move away from the brand’s previous “Aw, shucks tonality. When it was an entry-level brand for non-hagglers, that tone meant a lot. But Saturn has always been so much more than nice. They haven’t stopped behaving like a leading progressive brand; they stopped advertising like one. We had to give them a more assertive tone.”

Saturn, which spends more than $200 million annually on ads, in January moved its account without a review to Deutsch from Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. Goodby had worked on the business since 2002.

Looking back at the brand’s ad heritage, Hirshberg said he found inspiration in the legacy of the late-1980s Hal Riney launch spots that seemed to recall the rich associations of Riney’s “Morning in America” ads for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, a “fatherly, optimistic sense of progress and change.”

The campaign will continue to stress Saturn as an automotive company with “revolutionary ideas,” Hirshberg said. “Somehow those revolutionary ideas got reduced to giving away doughnuts. We’re going back to striving, progressive, revolutionary.”