Marketing guru: I can save Saab - (With Reptilian Marketing?)
2010-01-03 0:00


Background: Clotaire Rapaille - Reptilian Marketing (Video)

Clotaire Rapaille - SUVs and the Reptilian Brain - 60 Minutes (Video)

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A French-born, US-based marketing expert who has often criticized American carmakers claims he can turn around troubled Swedish automaker Saab Automobile.

“I want Saab. Give me Saab and I will save it and make it prosper again,” writes G. Clotaire Rapaille, who has served as a marketing advisor to several large automakers, in a letter sent December 26th to thousands of subscribers.

“This is a fantastic brand and we should not let it die.”

When contacted by The Local, Rapaille said he was "very serious" about his offer, and explained that while he hadn't made direct contact with Saab, General Motors (GM), or the Swedish government about his proposal, he expected to hear from them at some point.

"They will try to contact me, I'm sure," he told The Local.

"When someone is drowning and they are given a hand, they don’t argue with it, they just take it. They have no other choice."

According to Rapaille, Saab has a “tribe of loyal followers” and represents the “core value” of Swedish culture.

“This is the image of Sweden in the world; this is an element of the Swedish contribution to the world. We cannot let it die,” he writes.

He goes on to accuse Saab’s US-based owner GM of having “killed” Saab by treating it as a generic car.

“The time of management by engineers is over,” he argues, believing instead that marketers and anthropologists are better equipped to know what people want and why they want it.

Rapaille claims he can lead efforts to turn Saab around because of his expertise in auto industry branding and marketing around the globe.

“Besides that, I love cars,” he adds.

In return for taking charge of the beleaguered Swedish brand, which GM said last week it plans to wind down starting in 2010 after failing to find a suitable buyer, Rapaille said he wants a salary of one dollar per year as well as 25 percent of the Saab shares optioned at the current price.

In addition he demands “total power to take the company where it has to go” and the “total support” of the Swedish government.

To start, Rapaille called for a emergency meeting to be convened at Saab headquarters in Trollhättan in western Sweden to develop a “brand resurrection” plan.

Speaking with The Local, Rapaille downplayed his lack of experience running a car company, admitting the closest thing he has is nearly three decades experience of running his own multinational consulting firm.

He was also sparse on details about his plans to save Saab, but emphasized instead the power of his marketing insights.

"The point is I know how to sell Saabs and can get people to buy Saabs," he explained.

"I have the notoriety and the power to rally people around the world and to attract the best people to defend Saab and make sure the brand doesn’t die."

Rapaille again slammed GM's "engineer mentality" as the reason for the poor performance of the Saab brand over the last two decades.

In his eyes, Saabs built under GM's stewardship increasingly lacked the essence of what made Saab a brand so treasured by its admirers.

"It’s time to tell the engineers and financial people on the board to get out and go fishing and let people who know how to run the show take over," he said, arguing that engineers "don't understand people".

"It’s time for a paradigm shift...the engineering mentality has failed," he continued.

Rapaille also said he's received hundreds of supportive responses to his proposal from Saab enthusiasts and fellow branding experts from around the world.

"Saab is filled with an incredible amount of emotional capital. I’ve been amazed by the reaction I’ve received. It’s so powerful," he said

"Saab people love the brand and don’t want to let it die."

He also criticized the way the Swedish government has handled the attempted sale of Saab.

"I don’t know if the Swedish government really cares about Saab, I don't think they really do," he said.

But according to Rapaille, the support of the government isn't important to getting his plan a hearing with Saab and GM leadership.

"I’m not interested in talking to the government. The pressure needs to come from the people who love Saab and want to see it kept alive," he said.

Saab spokesperson Gunilla Gustavs said she had no knowledge of Rapaille’s offer.

“I don’t know anything about it,” she told The Local.

“A number of parties have shown an interest in Saab since early December. But GM are the ones who know about the different offers and out of principle we don’t comment on who has shown an interest.”


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