Digitas Becomes Saab Cars USA's Direct AOR

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General Motors Corp.'s Saab Cars USA appointed Digitas as its full-service direct marketing agency of record as it prepares to enter the U.S. market with a new class of car.

The award consolidates interactive and traditional DM at Digitas. Brann Baltimore handled Saab's direct marketing until it resigned the account when it became part of Euro RSCG 4D, the agency for Saab import rival Volvo.

"We were actually sad to see them leave because they were doing a good job," said Patrik Riese, CRM manager at Saab's national headquarters in Detroit.

Saab picked Digitas as its interactive agency of record in 1999, and this year handed over responsibility for its U.S. Web site design. The site at www.saabusa.com relaunched in September.

Digitas' Boston and Detroit offices will serve the Saab direct and interactive marketing account. Responsibilities include direct mail, e-mail, downloadable and CD-ROM e-Booklets, Web site and interactive advertising. Billings were not disclosed.

Lowe New York is Saab's general ad agency, working on branding. Digitas will work closely with Lowe.

"The overarching mandate is to stay as integrated as often as we can," Riese said. "That's a hallmark of Saab marketing."

Saab's U.S. arm imports and distributes the 9-2x all-wheel-drive sport hatch, 9-3 sport sedan and convertible and 9-5 sedan and Sportwagon. It sells parts and accessories as well. The automaker last year sold 47,914 cars through more than 240 dealers nationwide.

Full-service direct work starts in January. It includes marketing for next year's debut of Saab's first sport utility vehicle. The yet-to-be-priced Saab 9-7x enters showrooms in the spring. But the Swedish brand has its work cut out, as Digitas is aware.

"There is the challenge of thinking of Saab as an SUV brand," said Jodi Robinson, vice president and associate marketing director at Digitas. "So we really want to help them with the positioning of the brand, working with Lowe."

Saab faces competition from bigger imports such as BMW, Audi and Volvo. Marketing from Digitas and Lowe aims to ensure that Saab retains a spot in the two-car garage typical of Saab owners.

"When you look at our customer base, we've seen quite a lot of defection into the SUV market, and we didn't have an SUV," Riese said. "So we see this as a chance to win back what we might have lost. This is a chance to improve our share of garage."

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