Goodbye Curvin, Thanks Is All I Can Say

It is with great sadness that we let everyone here at SaabsUnited know that our friend and Saab Ad man Curvin O’Rielly lost his battle with cancer on Friday night. For a man that I never met but had the chance to interact online here and through Facebook, it greatly saddens me to have received the news last night through the crew mail.

I am Curvin’s son in law.  I noticed your nice historical posts on Curvin and his ad work with Saab.  I am writing to let you know that the original Saab ad man has passed away here in Saratoga Springs, Friday night.  I can forward you a link to an obit when it is published in the next couple of days.  I found your posts as we searched online for more material for his obit.

Darren, Saratoga Springs, NY

Read moreGoodbye Curvin, Thanks Is All I Can Say

What does the Saab brand mean to you?

At the recommendation of Curvin O’Rielly, I’ve just watched this video – the Ries Report – produced by an advertising and marketing guru named Al Ries. It’s around 7 minutes long, so it won’t take much of your time, but it’s a good look at why the strength of a brand is important and the fact that better products don’t always win.

The video was made in 2009.


No way does Pepsi taste better than Coke! But anyway…..

I disagree a little with Mr Ries’ emphasis on branding over product. I’m a firm believer that the car industry will always emphasise the quality of product and that products found to be lacking will suffer for it (the fall of Toyota since this video was made is a case in point).

But the importance of a strong brand alongside a strong product can’t be denied.

In the car business, the strength of a brand tends to flow on from its sales strength and the consistency of its presence. Audi have cemented themselves as a premium brand based on technology and the tactile and visual quality of their product (perceived quality). Their brand presence reflects this and their rising sales attest to it. Volvo, on the other hand, are trying to reinvent themselves from being a safe, family-oriented company to being ‘naughty’ and I wonder how long that transition will last.

All of this leads me to the question in the headline – What does the Saab brand mean to you?

Saab has quite a strong ownership culture surrounding it, but how strong (or weak) is the Saab brand? What are the attributes that you think of first when you think of Saab? Does Saab still radiate the same brand attributes now that they did when you first encountered the company? Are those attributes communicated clearly in Saab’s advertising, websites, publications, products?

On an official level, Saab’s core brand pillars are

  • progressive design,
  • responsible performance, and
  • sporty driver focus

Personally speaking, Saab means a number of things – driving fun, practicality, design, turbocharging and Scandinavian. I guess some of those relate to the official brand pillars, but I wonder how closely.

For me, picking one thing above all others, what resonates strongest is Scandinavian. Because I’ve visited Sweden (and loved the place) and because I like Swedish design and simplicity, the experience I’ve had with Saab cars really reflects their Scandinavian origin. They’re different.

Maybe different is the attribute that resonates with me the most and Scandinavian is a part of that? And maybe the fact that I can’t separate the two is indicative of some brand confusion?


Again – what does the Saab brand mean to you?

PIck the strongest single attribute that stands out for you, and a little bit about why.

Curvin O’Reilly – Saab ad man

I met Curvin O’Reilly at the Swedish Car Day in Boston, back in August. We ended up having some very good conversations about Saab advertising and this was a subject that Curvin knew a fair bit about – he wrote some of Saab’s ads back in the 1980s.

I’ve been wanting to do a profile of Curvin for a while now. Thankfully, he’s sent me a bit of information so that we can all get to know him a little and understand a bit more about the ads that helped to drive Saab’s golden age.

Curvin did a presentation about Saab advertising at the 2010 Saab Owners Convention, in the US. He was joined there by a colleague, Willy Hopkins. It was well received and anyone who meets Curvin comes to know that he still maintains a strong interest in Saab and the way the company is publicised. This is a little of his story.


Attendees at the 2010 Saab Owners Convention would be familiar with the name Curvin O’Rielly, but almost everyone outside that circle wouldn’t be.

So… who is Curvin O’Rielly?

For your readers, Swade, the only piece of information about me that really matters is that, in 1979, I wrote “The most intelligent car ever built” tagline for Saab, along with the first six ads that got Saab headed in the right direction in the US.

Everything that follows is my backstory, so if your readers want to bail out now, that’s okay with me.

When Bob Sinclair arrived as head of Saab North America, his task was difficult. After 23 years in the US market, Saab’s sales in 1979 amounted to only 14,979 cars. The brand had zero momentum and low awareness. Moreover, its competitors (Mercedes, BMW, Volvo and Audi) were deeply entrenched. Perhaps understandably, there were Saab dealers who were ready to toss in the towel.

Read moreCurvin O’Reilly – Saab ad man

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