Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saturn is dead.

As the full title of Ad Aged indicates, this blog started in part as a rumination on the ossification of the advertising industry and the parallel paralysis in the American auto industry in Detroit.

Today the news came out that what was once the last best hope for Detroit, the Saturn brand, will not be "saved" by Roger Penske and will be eliminated by Corporal Motors. (Clearly they haven't deserved the "General" rank for many years now.)

At the out-set Saturn did a lot of things right. They hired Hal Riney and made themselves a coveted brand, a brand with a story, a creation myth. The work that Riney did made Saturn's employees proud. It made the dealers human. It made the people proud to be part of Saturn.

Then, GM decided to squeeze Saturn. They failed to support the brand with new and better products. They fired Hal Riney. And when GM finally decided to resuscitate the nameplate with new and attractive products, the damage was already done and the pith and core of the brand had perished.

Dear Mr. Sorrell,
Dear Mr. Wren,
Dear Mr. Roth,
Dear Mr. Levy,

I'm just a lowly maker of ads, not a M&A wizard. I don't have a fat, global account in my pocket. I don't understand complex financial wheelings and dealings, but if I
were any of you, I'd stop jetting around the world for a few weeks and think hard about Saturn.

I'd think hard about my agency brands. About the morale of my people. About a calcified infrastructure that does little but preserve a calcified infrastructure.

I'd think a lot about Saturn. And how your holding companies can avoid becoming a, well, dead planet.


Teenie said...

Wow--the human touch worked and some big wigs decided it was too foreign for them and unplugged the plugged-in people who made Saturn successful.

I guess when you muck things up and still get to keep the corporate jet, you don't really learn a valuable lesson about anything.

Unknown said...

It was big car people being big car people and being as arrogant as they always are. "You want to work on a car account? Okay, where's your big car account credentials?" That's the key question asked. Never, "where's your communication credentials?" Never, "do you how people are?" Rather, "what do you know about cars?" That's the problem with many an industry that's grown too big for itself. It looses touch with the world they are supposed to live in and create their own world, they're own planet. (To spin on the postcard illustration.) Where they surround themselves with their think-a-likes. No aliens allowed. Or humans rather.

Unknown said...

excuse spelling msitakes, dropped words, and grammar mistakes, they're instead of their and such. i write too fast..and slightly dysletic...but i guess you guys understood what i meant...

George Parker said...

Great post, I'm going to steal it... Well, just a bit of it, near the end. Consider it an "Homage" It'll be on AdScam first thing Monday... And I'll give you credit, cos I am a fucking prince.

george tannenbaum said...

Thanks, George.

You are a Prince.

Jeff Shattuck said...

Personally, I think it's too late for the agency brands owned by WPP. Sorrel failed in his quest to build something similar to GM, a house of brands in which each brand is distinct and meaningful; now he is failing in his attempt to have WPP be The Brand, because, well, WPP is not a communications company, it's a financial vehicle, and a clunker at that.

Jeff Shattuck

Curvin O'Rielly said...

It wasn't Hal Riney who created Saturn's launch campaign. It was me, along the people who worked in my creative group. I could tell the full story, but the myth Hal created about himself would undoubtedly make my tale highly suspect. Oh well... I know what I did. So do a number of other people.

george tannenbaum said...

Curvin, I meant no offense. I've always admired your work. I was at Riney for ten months in 2004 and '05 and there was a lot of "hagiography" going on.