Analysts are warning that Saturn’s decision to align itself with the flag; mom and apple pie in its latest “Rethink American” campaign may not be an automatic home run.
“They can’t rely on the American idea only, even though, traditionally, [General Motors] being American is a reason why they’ve wanted people to buy their vehicles,” said Alexander Edwards, the president of the auto division at the consultancy Strategic Vision based in San Diego. “That would be like Hyundai only selling vehicles based on the warranty.”
The automakers new campaign flaunting improved Saturn body kits targets import purchasers and was created based on company research. Among other facts, th eGeneral Motors Corp., the parent company, found that the 17-year-old Saturn is still considered a new brand by import owners and intenders. “Which was encouraging,” said Dan Keller, the marketing director at Saturn in Spring Hill, Tenn. “They gave us a whole lot of credit for being different. We don’t have the baggage of a lot of these other domestic car companies… These findings gave us an opportunity to challenge them and rethink what an American car company can be.”
America has been a “sponsor” of other brands. In 2001, Tommy Hilfiger introduced an “Earn your stripes and be a star” contest where filmmakers entered a video demonstrating what the American flag meant to them. Three years after, SABMiller launched an ad campaign that claimed they were running for “president of beers.” The ads called Anheuser-Busch “un-American” for declining to refute them. Anheuser-Busch responded by stating in ads that “Miller was purchased by South African Breweries.” A full-page Budweiser ad that ran in newspapers during the Memorial Day weekend read: “A true American holiday deserves a true American beer – Budweiser.”
A lot of brands have experimented with this ‘American brand’ advertising but the consumer doesn’t seem to care much in many cases,” said J. Walker Smith, the president at marketing research firm Yankelovich Partners in Chapel Hill, N.C. Smith added, Most consumers are buying products largely based on the valuations they make on the brand with regard to the competition in a category. And this whole notion of being American is somewhat beside the point when it comes to the performance of a product.
“It now is taking more that just saying you are American, like the [Ford] Fusion ads that compare the Fusion to the Camry and the Accord,” said Peter DeLorenzo, a former Detroit ad man and now publisher of industry Web site Autoextremist.com. “Those other ‘We’re American’ ads didn’t work because American consumers were not listening. They wanted a good car. I’m not sure that [Rethink American] can get people out of their Toyotas and into a Saturn, but not trying to sway those buyers is a huge mistake. So this [tack of] going at them directly and trying to break the prevailing attitude has to be done.”