Barbara Lippert’s Critique

In the most recent Saturn dealer spot, we see four Great Outdoors dudes (messier than yuppies, but not yet Grizzly Adamses) piled into their Saturn Vue, headed for the woods. They four-wheel on into the forest and start pounding down stakes for a tent. It’s getting dark. They hear something in the distance. Each guy cocks an ear as carefully as Bambi. The ominous strains get clearer: It’s the theme from Deliverance.

They throw the stuff into the back of the truck (62.8 feet of cargo space) and within seconds (electric power steering) tear on out of there. I was actually hoping for a finale: perhaps a reaction shot from a bunny with a banjo. Even without that, it’s a twist on the usual happy-camper clichés of SUV spots.

It’s funny, but since Blair Witch there have been many scaredy-cats-in-the-woods scenarios in ads, and this one could serve Isuzu or Subaru as well.

The Saturn twist continues in another dealer spot for the Vue: This time, a coed group heads to one guy’s favorite backroad spot on a lake. They gear up for some ol’ fashioned fun. The guy who knows the territory swings on a rope over the lake. Just as the wholesomeness becomes unbearable (Nor man Rockwell in the age of Fear Factor), the guy comes swinging back, forgets to let go and body-slams right into the sports utility’s back door. Luckily, it’s made of polymer, so he bounces right off, and we’ve gotten a fresh little product benefit demo (dent-resistant side panels).

It’s nowhere near as smart, artful and pitch-perfect as “Sheet Metal,” the Saturn meta-commercial that, as with the greatest Nike work or even the fabled stuff from DDB in the ’60s, is a piece of conceptual heaven. A car spot with no cars, it’s set to Bach piano music and seemingly choreographed by Balanchine, shot in gorgeous saturated light. Yet it’s also simple: People tap-tap around, acting as cars until finally the cast of thousands high-steps over miles of roads and architecturally inspired loops.

The announcer says, “When we design our cars, we don’t see sheet metal. We see the people who may one day drive them,” and I can’t see how viewers would not get emotional. Even with all those feet clomping around in the spot, it’s the opposite of pedestrian. It’s wildly inspired.

It’s also a compelling way to up date Saturn’s populist roots. The brand was introduced in 1990 as “a different kind of car company, a different kind of car.” Ads told the story of morning again in Motor City, GM’s Field of Dreams (build the car and they will come). Twelve years later, many other American car companies have adopted the manufacturing and management techniques of Saturn; meanwhile the cars have built a great reputation for economy, reliability and customer service.

But the car itself seemed like a roll ing Puritan ethic: a stripped-down, anti-flashy way to get to Point B. That’s where a different kind of ad from a different kind of agency (Goodby, Silverstein & Partners) comes in.

I thought “Car Wash,” for the luxury sedan Saturn L series, was actually an ad for a diamond anni versary gift, where the impossibly beautiful and thoughtful husband delivers not only the rock but also a Mercedes. “Everyday, meet elegance” is the tag, and the shock is that the car is a Saturn. (And that such an aesthetic moment can be reached in the lowliest of places, a car wash.) And that Goodby has done a spot that’s so slow and magical—and so un-smartass.

Now, about the tag line, “It’s different in a Saturn.” Obviously, it updates the old “different kind of company” line, but it also seems to me that Goodby is throwing the word “different” around the way it used to use “stuff.” Indeed, the tag for previous client Norwegian Cruise Lines was, “It’s different out here.”

Actually, for Saturn, the line has legs.