Saturn Comes Out and Says It: ‘People First’

Saturn launches a new campaign today that extends its customer-centric philosophy with a simpler, streamlined tag: “People first.”

Three spots with the new line are rolling out from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. Five more will phased in during the coming months. In addition to extending the company’s core message, the ads address specific attributes of Saturn and its expanding line, including its haggle-free sales approach, available OnStar GPS roadside-service system and dent-proof doors.

Saturn, which spends an estimated $240 million on ads per year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, used the word “different” to anchor the two previous taglines in its 14-year history. Hal Riney & Partners launched the brand in 1990 with “A different kind of company. A different kind of car.” When Goodby took over the account in March 2002, it tweaked the line to become “It’s different in a Saturn.”

But research found people did not fully understand that line, said Jamie Barrett, partner and co-creative director at the Omnicom Group agency. “People first” was an internal company mantra at Saturn, and Goodby creatives simply chose to state it in the ads.

Said Barrett, “We thought, ‘Why get all clever about it? Why get cryptic? Let’s just tell people about it. Saturn is not about being overtly tricky or clever. We can get this done in two words.’ ”

“We wanted to remind people that even though our product line is expanding, the buying and ownership experience is different [from other brands],” added Scott McLaren, ad manager at Saturn.

In “Philosophy,” Saturn employees show cars to people who look just like them, as if they are selling to themselves. A voiceover says, “It’s a philosophy we’ve embraced from the start.”

“Door Music” shows people and objects—street-hockey players, a child’s toy, even a kitchen sink—bumping into an Ion’s doors without denting them, creating a cacophonous melody. In “Convoy,” which touts the OnStar availability, a woman driving her car is followed by a line of emergency workers, including police and paramedics.

“Stork,” due to break in April, shows a couple admiring their new, red Saturn coupe, when a stork swoops in and places a baby in a blanket on the driveway. The couple head to a Saturn dealership and trade in the car for an SUV. A voiceover explains Saturn’s exchange policy, which allows people to trade in any Saturn in the first 30 days after purchase.

The most recent ads, from the fall, showed people describing their bad driving habits. The work aimed to show that while one cannot avoid bad drivers, Saturn cars can make driving safer.

Saturn’s U.S. sales were down 3.2 percent last year from 2002, with 271,157 vehicles delivered in 2003, according to Ward’s Automotive. By comparison, Honda and Toyota, which make similar entry-level sedans, sold more than 1 million vehicles each in 2003.