In defence of: Saab marketing

Swade warned me this could be a tough row to hoe. After all, isn’t a company going into bankruptcy a pretty clear sign that their marketing has failed?  It’s certainly not the most positive demonstration of engagement with their customers. However, putting all that aside (even if you can’t, humour me…) I still think that Saab marketing got some things incredibly, timelessly right.

Let’s set aside the merciless taunting by the Top Gear chaps throughout their recent Saab piece about Saabs apparent fixation with jets – even ones they didn’t make.  Yes, it’s arguable that in many ways Saab marketing missed their mark and I too struggle with any of the marketing that tried to trade off the aircraft business. However, I believe that there is a also a case for Saab being one of the best marketed marques in the world.  How so? 

Bear with me while I take a mild digression to a comment made by a Swedish colleague of mine a few years ago.  Knowing my affection for Saab, this fellow loved to rib me about the company’s trials and tribulations as they unfolded.  On one particular occasion, he said something that more or less went like this:

“What is Saab, really? I mean, come on, try to define it for me. Volvo is a car company that is very easy to understand, one that make cars. A lot of cars. But Saab…. Saab is really just a very, very appealing idea.”

The fact he is from Gothenburg can perhaps account for something…… but nevertheless, it has remained as a telling comment in my mind. A very appealing idea. Perhaps that is part of the Saab magic after all?  

If you consider that Saab’s market share in any market except Sweden was never more than marginal in comparison to its competitors, the iconic nature of the brand is quite amazing.  Even now with the business completely removed from the market, I would bet that anyone you ask (literally, anyone) can offer a few words of recognition if you showed them a Saab logo.  It might be that they recognise a Swedish car company. Or perhaps more. This is how I propose, that Saab is in fact, a true success of branding and positioning – admittedly only a part of the whole marketing spectrum – far beyond the commercial value of its business.  

All this aside, how do I see Saab marketing doing this? Well, we could look at the Saab vs. advertising campaign, one of my favourites.  I’ve add three random images from this extensive campaign here to add some colour but perhaps you can see where I’m coming from.  This campaign seemed to take a direction that was original, bold and confident.  It captured performance but also looked into comfort, design, safety, lifestyle…and so much more. It seemed to say that Saab was about many, many aspects of life. Moreover, it cut to the quick of all of these aspects.  In comfort, who do you want to avoid? The chiropractor. In design, what do we mostly desire? Simplicity.  It goes on and in my view, it’s wonderful.

Nevertheless, if it’s not clear already, I’m not an advertsing guru or marketing academic and this is a not a comprehensive analysis of the Saab marketing campaigns.  I’m simply an enthusiastic bystander who sees beyond the current failure of the Saab business and finds a timeless element to the Saab brand that is irressistable.