Memo to Saab – Crappy graphics must die!

Generally speaking, I’m a fan of the Saab USA website. It’s been rated pretty highly in useability and feedback studies as well, so they’re obviously doing something right.

This post, therefore, comes from a two-fold source.

The first is my constant quest, at the risk of accusations of pedantry, to preserve the Saab identity where I see examples of it going astray. I’m really quite proud of Saab’s corporate image. It’s classy, relaxed and sophisticated. Why dumb it down?

The second is this blog article by Just-Auto’s David Leggit, where he makes an impromptu list of car makers that still have integrity (and those that don’t). Relax, Saab’s listed on the positive side of that particular ledger.

Folks that visit here or read reviews regularly would be aware that generally speaking, the Brits tend to rate Saabs higher than US journos. I don’t think it’s stretching things to suggest that the respective markets in those countries have similar opinions. Same cars, different driving conditions, values and perceptions.

Saab do still retain a great deal of their integrity and a vital cog in keeping it that way, aside from building the right cars (which is the most crucial step, of course) is presenting the brand the right way. I mentioned that I might be accused of pedantry here, but this cheesed me off right from the first moment I saw it and it’s only now, with the prompting of Leggit’s blog piece, that I’ve got around to writing on it.

(Just spit it out, you say – I’m getting to it).

I re-published some articles earlier this week on Saab’s identity. Much of the material for those articles was sourced from a publication by Saab themselves, which speaks of their corporate identity and how it should be presented. In short, this doesn’t seem to fit:

Saab Summer Challenge

I was tempted to call this article “Born From Jets Must Die” but I re-thought it. BFJ is a legitimate campaign and Saab are one of the few car companies that can do it and legitimately link their history to something cool. Others can’t do that.

But Saab USA have to be careful that they don’t tip BFJ over into the realm of the cheesy. My problems with the image above:

    1. Looks too much like an entire CGI.
    2. The jets are cheesy
    3. The text is all wrong.

Pedantic, indeed.

But it’s all an ongoing contribution to a corporate image and whilst the Saab USA website is a quality publication, this graphic waters it down and I, for one, don’t want to see that continue into other representations made on behalf of the brand.

So, some tips for the IT grads doing web development for GM, or those admen raking it in from Saab whilst running its identity into the ground.

1) Saab photography is meant, quite deliberately, to be toned down. It uses cool colors and is generally desaturated. In this instance, I’m unsure if there’s any genuine photography being used at all, which is a bad move in itself. It looks too cartoonish and that’s not the demographic we’re trying to reach here.

2) The animated jets are too cheesy. Still images of jets say enough. They look cool and they state the heritage without going over the top. It’s bad enough that every jet image or reference has to be accompanied by a disclaimer already. But quit the moving jets, huh? Again, it just looks a bit too cartoonish.

3) The font is meant to be Gill Sans. If you don’t have it on your computer, I can email it to you. And what in the world led you to think that an all-caps headline in the wrong font would be OK for the front page of your coporate website? Prominent all-caps leads the mind to think of shouting, which might be American, but isn’t Saab.

This is the thin edge of the wedge as far as I’m concerned and someone’s got to say something about it lest Saab’s corporate presence be reduced to that of a dime store (ok, that’s a stretch, but the principle’s still the same). You develop your identity and if it’s good, you then preserve your identity or it dies on the waves of some flimsy attempt to engage a fickle public. This is not the Saab way.

The click through page looks a little better:

Saab Summer Challenge

But once again when you look up on the corner, there’s a couple of little jets harassing you as you try to ignore those all-caps.

Look, the fact that Saab have retained their integrity in spite of many things that have chipped away at it speaks volumes for the character of the marque to start with. It’s annoying that anyone has to develop some sort of slick corporate ID in order to remain in people’s minds, but it’s a fact of modern business and consumer life.

I’d just appeal to Saab USA to remember where the brand comes from, and of the fact that the corporate imagery developed and nurtured worldwide is quite expressive and true to the company’s understated roots and philosophy.

When the ad company suggests something that’s out of line with that, it’s OK to disagree with them. And you should know the guidelines as the company wrote the book. I can send you my copy if you’ve lost your own.

Or you can have a look at just about any of the Saab microsites from around the world. They all manage to stick to the program and they look magnificent.

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22 Comments

  1. Another thing, did you notice that that Leggit article said that the cupholder in the 9-3 he was driving around was just amazing? I thought that was cool, since everyone used to crap all over Saab’s single, out-of-the-way cupholder.

  2. Sorry, either I screwed something up or they had some kind of copy protection on the image I tried to link to in my comment above. Look at this (same image, different location. Just ignore the website’s watermark as that obviously wasn’t originally part of the image).

  3. swade: that’s good to hear. I really can’t stand the current cupholder though because it seems to go against SAAB’s ethos of form over function. Sure, it’s fun to play with, but so are Transformers toys… šŸ˜‰

  4. Swade, you must be in a cranky mood, because this post is as nitpicky as they come.

    Yes, they should have used Gill Sans in the ad.

    And while Born from Jets may have worn out its welcome to you, a Saab afficiando, it is still quite fresh to most of the American public IMHO. It takes years for a brand identity to stick with the public, especially with a small brand like Saab that doesn’t spend $100 million a month on TV ads.

    I would prefer that Saab do a second round of “Born from Jets” which helps connect some Saab characteristics to jet-like technology (like turbocharging, for example – “hey, there’s a turbine in my car!”), but it seems apparent that SaabUSA’s ad budget isn’t big enough at the moment to do that.

    The other thing I’d love to see Saab do is a U.S. version of the “Please Release Me” ad — an incredible ad. I think they could do a version inside the Born from Jets concept – a jet fighter sitting on a runway with engines at the ready is as powerful an image of potential energy as a bursting dam or the other images in the “Release Me” ad. Jets = high performance, and Saab needs to work on its performance image here in the U.S.

    IMHO

  5. Talking of graphics and Saab sites, i love the current Saab Australia “Shift To Neutral” with the Grrrrreen tagline. There’s some very prominent huuuge billboards here in Sydney with the convertible centre stage and the whole ad looks superb.

  6. On the contrary Greg, I’m feeling happy as a clam today. As mentioned in the post, I don’t mind Born From Jets. I think it has relevance and done properly it’s definitely got legs left in it.

    It’s just that it’s being treated in a cheesy manner with these current graphics and treatments. If nobody says anything at all about it then they think it’s OK. If someone says something then maybe they think about it a little.

    It all started with those flying car around 9 to 12 months ago. That was as bad as it culd get and I was annoyed when it appeared on Saab’s website. Now this. Like I said, it’s the thin edge of the wedge.

    There’s a well documented corporate style out there. Why not stick to it?

    Paul, I remember seeing an iConvertible billboard last year right at the entrance to Sydney airport. Looked great. It’s a classy, open presentation and makes people think a little. How it should be.

  7. Am I right in saying that BMW uses “Ultimate Driving Machine” world wide?
    One thing that maybe hurts Saab is that they have a different tag line in separate markets and that is why sometimes even we can’t agree what Saab stands for. As I related in a previous post, Audi in particular uses very clever marketing via product placement to build an image.

    Maybe Saab needs a new wordwide tag line.

  8. I side with Swade on this one. But it could be down to aethetic preference difference in countries.

    I tend to find our US friends prefer the more in your face approatch as opposed to toned down aethetic langauge.

    SONY, a very well known brand, uses different marketing and visual design cues for their product packaging in different counties.

    In Japan, a Walkman mp3 player’s packaging is a study in simplicity – it usually comes in a recycled, brown cardboard box with semi rough texture, a single colour printing and consistent fonts. If I have to describe it, it’s ELEGANT.

    While the same product inthe USA gets shiny carboard, multicolour print with upto 4 or 5 different font types – it looks BUSY.

  9. john: we Yanks are about the only reason SAAB didn’t go out of business in the 1990’s. The same thing could have happened to SAAB that happened to MG and Rover.

  10. IMHO as a Yank, the BFJ isn’t very well-known here at all yet, and therefore is not worn-out. However, I have to agree with Swade that the jets cross the line. Honestly, the font is pure aesthetics, and since most of us Americans have been numbed to much more subtle advertising, I don’t mind it. However, I can definitely see that it isn’t exactly in line with Saab’s heritage. But hey, neither was the NG900, and if that can be accepted…

  11. Swade, I completely agree with you on this one. When I see that all-caps headline framed by the cheesy little jet images, I can almost hear the annoying voice-over SHOUTING at me. The “summer challenge” thing doesn’t work either. GM should have kept that slogan for one of its CHEVY TV ads. It is the thin end of the cheese wedge. GM TV and radio ads SHOUT at you with things like “ACT NOW!!!!!!” or “BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!!!!!!!!!!”. And yes, I’m an American, but nothing sends me scrambling for the mute button faster!
    šŸ˜‰

  12. The jets are cheesy, yes, but let’s not criticize Saab, GM, Saab USA and BMW (yeah!) for every little thing that is not to our liking.

    If you look at half the Saab ads from the 70s: they are cheesy and don’t make use of the Gill Sans font… Shock!

    And lastly, while I myself prefer the classy, simple, upscale look Saab has elsewhere in the world, the American market is different. When you spend 40K on your next sport sedan you better get something that moves more than just your mind, given you can get the “ultimate driving machine” instead.

    (Disclaimer: personally, I prefer the “move your mind” slogan; from a U.S. market perspective, you need more than that though, and Born from Jets does the job.)

  13. For Yanks, read General Motors. I am referring only to General Motors, not to each and every citizen of the USA.

    Afterall, it is not YOU that is murdering the marque.

  14. john: and for “Yanks” I was also referring to GM. What I’m pointing-out is if it weren’t for GM’s influx of badly-needed money when they bought 50% of SAAB in 1990 and the remaining 50% in 2000 SAAB would likely not have survived the 20th century. I wasn’t taking your comment as a personal affront.

  15. design, performance, and style will carry the brand far more than advertising. maybe that’s why i’m neutral with “bfj,” the font, jets in the font, etc.

    sure, i wouldn’t mind an iconic advertising theme like mastercard’s “priceless,” bmw’s “the ultimate driving machine,” or apple’s “mac v. pc.” but i don’t think a “catchy” theme should be the goal. the product should be good enough without it. i can’t even remember the mercedes benz ad theme, assuming it has one. but it manages to sell a lot of expensive cars, nevertheless. another example is the iphone. just wow them with what it can do, show how it stands above the competition, and then deliver on your promises. advertising shouldn’t be any more difficult. (can anyone guess i don’t work in advertising?)

    it’s friday! šŸ™‚

  16. The font debate takes me back a few years to when my old emplyer supplied packaging to Nortel. We were supplied with a 200 page document detailing everything from the font to be displayed on a 40ft trailer down to letter heads on a compliments slip.

    It may seem petty but it does show a lack of attention to detail. Would the iPod be a global sucess if Stev Jobs looked at the first prototype and said “F**k it it ‘ill do”?

    The question I would ask is does the advert get a clear message across, create customer interest, continue to build Saabs image.

  17. Swade has a point. I’ve spent my share of time with some very strong brand builders and they all say the same things: consistency is a key ingredient.

    I once saw a woman quite literally get fired because her overhead transparencies(remember those?) had logos that were the wrong shade of red and were stretched out of proportion. Granted, her other work was no great shakes either, and it was her job to create marketing materials for her division of the company, but she was gone the very next day none the less.

    The jets are cheesy.

    All caps is annoying.

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