I’ve been meaning to post this one for a while, but life has kept me pretty busy and I wanted to devote the necessary time to give this article the respect it deserves. A few weeks ago on twitter I noticed some pictures of a sleek new 9-5 Aero with some huge custom painted wheels.
Sure it’s a sweet ride, but the tweet that accompanied it is what really caught my attention.
Greenlife52: Thanks Saab for the new whip. Great car. http://moby.to/5smulb 6:48 PM Apr 12th via Twittelator
For those of you who don’t know, that’s Mike Green, star defenseman on the top team in the Eastern Conference of the NHL, the Washington Capitals. Just as you probably are, I was very interested in how he got a hold of the car and who at Saab gave or lent it to him. As I dug deeper, I found what is perhaps the best example I’ve come across of how small moves in a local market can add up to make a huge impact.
I called the largest Saab dealer in the DC area, International Saab in Dulles, VA, and asked who might know about this story. One of the salesmen immediately told me, “You’ll want to speak with Kurt, he’s responsible for that.” I gave him my number, and within an hour I got a call from Kurt Schirm, the owner of International Saab, who happens to be the head of the Saab Cars North America Dealer Council.
“So you guys gave Mike Green a new 9-5, huh?” I asked.
“Ya, we set him up with that new white 9-5 Aero. It’s got every option you can think of on it– Nav, Ventilated Seats, Panoramic Sunroof, Harmon Kardon, Rear Entertainment Package, we even custom painted those Spock wheels black on there. It’s a great looking car,” Kurt told me.
“How’d you get involved with him?” I inquired.
“We got hooked up through an agent, and I’ve been meaning to get a Cap (Washington Capitals player) into a car for a while. We thought it would be a big deal to have someone high profile in a Saab showing their support for the brand,” said Kurt.
“Hockey is and should be a solid target audience for us. If you think about it, it’s is an alternative sport in the US, it’s not as mainstream as football is, and Saabs aren’t mainstream cars either. Both have strong Scandinavian roots, and so the association should be natural. When you look at all the major sports in the country, if you look among hockey fans you’ll see higher demographics than all the others, higher income, education level, you name it. So we really feel like hockey and Saab should be a natural fit.”
I found it interesting he found this connection just as I did independently a few days prior in my article about what Sweden can learn from an American hockey team, where I suggested that my local Saab dealer should hook our new rookie Swedish goaltender up with a new Saab. Indeed, I completely agree with Kurt that hockey should be a major rung of the Saab advertising arm, and small moves like the one International Saab is doing add up to make a huge difference in the minds of impressionable hockey fans.
“It’s interesting,” Kurt went on. “The Caps are the best team we have (in Washington D.C.). They’re at the top of their game. I’ve been a season ticket holder for years, and fans love them. When you can channel the fans’ passion that’s proven and deep for a known team and get one of their heros to put his stamp of approval on a product, basically saying ‘this is cool,’ you can make a really strong impression.”
It’s worth noting that Mike Green’s other cars are high profile and have attracted much attention already. He not only has a Lamborghini Gallardo pictured below which you’ll note matches his new Saab perfectly, but a black Bentley Continental GT and two Escalades (one Hybrid).
If you’re so inclined, you can see more of Mike’s bachelor lifestyle on an episode of Cribs which has so far picked up 122,000 views on its own. No doubt driving the Saab and giving a big thumbs up for the car via twitter is a big statement for someone who could park any sedan he wanted to in his garage.
But according to Kurt, it’s not going to end with twitter. “He’s actually going to be cutting some commercials for us at some point soon,” he told me. As soon as we can get a hold of them, we’ll definitely be posting them at SaabsUnited. The impact a commercial like this could have shouldn’t be downplayed. For American hockey fans, it’s a huge wake up call that Saab is a brand to take seriously. On a day that many of you might have watched the royal wedding, it’s their equivalent of seeing Jaguars, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces rolling up to the front of Westminster Abbey– they pay attention to what their team’s players care about.
Kurt and I went on to talk about just how big an impact small moves like this can make for relatively low cost. For example, while Saab spent at least $100,000 to be a part of the Aspen Shortsfest we covered, which for sure gets coverage, it doesn’t carry with it a strong endorsement like that of a major figure that Mike Green’s Saab publicity will. While I didn’t ask whether or not International Saab outright gave the car to Mike Green or is loaning it to him (none of my business ;)), even if they did the cost is minimal considering what they get out of it in a market where hockey is an incredibly important and influential sport. It’s ideas like this that should be encouraged and nurtured by Saab not only in the states, but around the world.
One thing we often talk about here is how we are shocked by how amazing the cars are, yet how low the confidence is in Saab as a company. Something that can go a long way towards repairing that image is by having high profile figures like sports celebrities give their stamp of approval and say, “This car is cool and Saab is a company I can get behind.” If you think about it, in many small markets where Saab has traditionally fared best (think Boston, Albany, Buffalo, parts of the tri-state area), the biggest celebrities are usually these sports stars, and the hockey players are often overlooked when it comes to endorsements, yet they have the most rabid die hard fans who take their opinions very seriously.
Indeed, Kurt wants to see Saab do the same with other NHL stars like the Sedin twins in Vancouver (something commenter Jason Powell would be more than happy about I’m sure). “I’d love to put them in matching black and white 9-5s,” Kurt told me.
“Beyond the obvious NHL connections, Saab should be going after college hockey too. The frozen four for instance could be huge (the NCAA equivalent of the Stanley Cup playoffs). There’s a real opportunity to go after youth hockey, where parents are extremely impressionable and where sponsorships could have a deeper meaning,” he went on.
If anyone at Saab is listening, I think Kurt’s ideas should be nurtured and given extreme weight– his are the first I’ve heard that are actionable, rooted in Saab’s natural Swedish DNA, and can be done at a local level. Instead of a broad sweeping approach on cable channels and the internet, perhaps Saab should start focusing first on rebuilding their core markets in the Northeast US and around the country where hockey is part of the culture? If given the opportunity, this connection to hocket could easily be cultivated and capitalized upon for low cost– think program ads with Mike Green in Washington or local ad buys as International Saab plans on doing. Big moves in small ponds can have a far greater impact on sales, and it’s this alternative spirit that is what once built Saab in the first place. Kurt– the late CEO of Saab-Scania Bob Sinclair would certainly be proud of your efforts, and I hope that everyone at Saab start to give you a greater voice in the company. Well done.