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Friday, Apr. 13, 2007 at 4:09 am

Imus, Vonnegut & Bigelow Tea: A Saab Story

By Robert Gorell
April 13th, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. | 1922 - 3007I assumed it would be a big deal when Kurt Vonnegut died. Still, I don’t think he’d have shared my sentiment.

“People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (1963)

And there I was, watching the gravity-shifting echo-chamber that is cable news, offering one-way smirks to people with good dentists as they charted fresh, new angles on a story about a media veteran with a foul mouth and a microphone who sold his voice box to people who were, it turns out, surprised to discover that this man was himself, indeed, nappy-headed.

Okay, fine. So it goes. Let’s give the nappy-headed loudmouth the stage over the nappy-headed poet. Besides, this was no time to think of dead poets; a real salesman had lost his career in full, high-definition glory.

What now with all this tea!?

Sponsors that pulled out of Imus’ show included American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp. Imus made a point Thursday to thank one sponsor, Bigelow Tea, for sticking by him.

Then, whatever the celestial reasonings, I thought about Breakfast of Champions (or maybe it was the introduction to Slaughterhouse Five) where Kurt tells of his misadventures as the owner/manager of a Saab dealership in Cape Cod. It was a fitting job at the time; not even he could make this stuff up.

There I was, my attention once again back to Scarborough Country, just in time for commercials. As though Vonnegut’s ghost were the media buyer… That damn Saab commercial where it zooms-off along a rain-slicked runway, the tracking shot fading out moments before, presumably, its flux capacitor kicks in. Back to the future; to a place when a Saab could be a Saab…

“SAAB: BORN FROM JETS”

Being a superficial marketing-type, I needed to know what Saab’s homepage had to tell me that the commercial couldn’t quite say to my face.

Hmm… Seems they don’t really believe in words. But what if Vonnegut were Saab’s copywriter?

The Saab back then was a far cry from the sleek, powerful, four-stroke Yuppie uniform it is today. It was the wet dream, if you like, of engineers in an airplane factory who had never made a car before. “Wet dream,” did I say? Get a load of this: There was a ring on the dashboard, connected to a chain running over pulleys in the engine compartment. Pull on it, and at the far end it would raise a sort of window shade on a spring-loaded roller behind the front grill. That was to keep the engine warm while you went off somewhere. So, when you came back, if you hadn’t stayed away too long, the engine would start right up again.

Now I know why I never liked Saab’s revisionist nostalgia campaign. Like Don Imus giving the usual some-of-my-best-friends-are-blank song ‘n’ dance in front of a national audience of folks trying to muster the energy to care, this “yuppie canoe”-turned-rocket-ship had made itself seem so cheap, so contrived, kinda… nappy.

“So it goes.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

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Comments (4)

  1. [...] Imus, Vonnegut & Bigelow Tea: A Saab Story What now with all this tea!? Sponsors that pulled out of Imus’ show included American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp. Imus made a point Thursday to thank one sponsor, Bigelow Tea, for sticking by him. [...]

  2. Nice rant Robert … but remember almost all corporate smucks hail from Sweden, at least anatomically. Good night Kurt.

  3. Tom,

    Actually, I’m a fan of the Swedes in general. They’re consistently on the cutting edge of design and technology. It’s the company’s State-side marketing I find to be awkward and revisionist. Saab’s “real” slogan is “Move Your Mind,” but in the US, we get “Born From Jets.” It’s just one of those annoying corporate half-truths that aren’t worth marketing now that the Internet exists.

    Besides, Bill Bernbach never had any trouble overcoming objections with the VW bug. The Saab used to be inferior. Today, it’s, by most accounts, a great car. Why not sell that?

    It’s the “re-branding” that churns my stomach. Why bother? If you’ve got a great product, let me know about it; don’t blow a bunch of jet-wash in my face. This “Bjorn Again” imagery (as it were) just seems so phony next to Vonnegut’s words.

    Good thing Saabs weren’t as good back then as they are today… Vonnegut might have never closed the dealership!

  4. [...] It’s audible farfugnugen, baby! (Way better than "Born from jets".) [...]

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