Saab: A True State of Independence

Saab is back on U.S. television for the first time in almost two years and the new commercial really captures the essence of the brand along with its Swedish heritage and philosophy.

Kudos to Lowe Brindfors, Saab’s longtime Swedish agency in tandem with the Birmingham, Michigan office of McCann Erickson, the automaker’s U.S. agency. There’s also radio, print and online.
Asha Ali sang her same “The Time is Now” song for the new 9-5’s unveiling at the Frankfort auto show last fall, so it was a natural extension to television and this web site, where visitors can learn more about Saab in an intriguing way.

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The all-new 9-5, due in dealerships here in mid-July, looks great. Expect more cool-looking Saabs now that the company hired Jason Castriota last month as its new design chief.  The American is known for creating the Ferrari P5/5 and Maserati GranTurismo and Saab says his mission is to take on rival European brands’ BMW and Audi. Hang onto your hats – Saab plans to introduce four new models in 12 months.
Talk about a sob story: Saab was near death after parent General Motors announced in late 2008 it might sell the brand. Saab had been held hostage for years by GM, which first acquired half of Saab AB in 1990 and the rest in 2000. This decade was especially rough for Saab under GM, which rotated a string of its people through the top ranks of the US operations, resulting in shifting ad strategies. Consider this: Saab had four different ad tags from 2001 and 2006.
First there was the global “Saab Vs.” campaign from Lowe Brindfors and Martin in Richmond, Va. It was a thoughtful, provocative campaign.

2003 marked the arrival of “Welcome to the State of Independence” ad slogan from Lowe, New York.

The irony, of course, was that Saab itself was far removed from an independent state.

Then, there was “Born From Jets” in 2005, also from Lowe.

Meanwhile, on the product side, Saab lost a lot of its Saabness when GM tried to broaden the appeal of the niche brand. GM borrowed heavily from other products and partners like Subaru, in which it held a stake, for the Saab 9-2X, based on Subaru’s Impreza (and nicknamed the Saab-aru), and the Chevrolet Trailblazer-based Saab 9-7X. GM even said it would move Saab manufacturing from its historic Swedish home in Trollhattan and move it to Germany. Oh the horror of it all!
Saab USA’s veteran chief Bob Sinclair, a bona fide “car guy” who retired in the early ’90s , told me in 2005 : “I see no evidence that GM management understands what the Saab brand is about.”.
Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, a niche, Dutch sports car maker, seems to get it. He bought Saab from GM earlier this year.
Viva la independence!
By the way, my favorite Saab campaign was the animated “Find Your Own Road” blitz in the mid-90s from Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York.

Which is your favorite?

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