SAAB Advertising

The Saab Saga: A Lesson in Marketing Genius and Missteps

Saab vs. Mercedes: A David and Goliath Story of Marketing Strategy and Resilience

Under the shadow of Mercedes-Benz's grand display, a small Saab guerrilla stand makes a valiant effort to captivate the crowd, as indicated by the red arrow.

The Ingenious Plan of Saab

In an industry where visibility can make or break a brand, Saab, the Swedish automaker once owned by General Motors, faced a dire financial crisis in 2009. Despite these challenges, Saab’s marketing team devised a bold strategy to showcase their latest models, the Saab 9-4x and the particularly noteworthy Saab 9-5ng, to the North American market. Reflecting on an article published 13 years ago on autoevolution.com, we revisit a unique moment in automotive marketing history that continues to offer insights today.

With no official presence at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) due to financial constraints, Saab decided to think outside the box—or, more accurately, outside the COBO Center in Detroit where NAIAS was held. They set up an offsite display across the street, hoping to attract the attention of the event’s attendees. This guerrilla marketing tactic, executed on the patio of the former Hotel Pontchartrain, was a testament to Saab’s resilience and creativity in the face of adversity.

The Mercedes-Benz Countermove

What Saab’s team hadn’t anticipated was the strategic maneuver by German automotive giant Mercedes-Benz. In a display of marketing might, Mercedes-Benz enveloped the Pontchartrain building, which loomed over Saab’s outdoor showroom, in a massive billboard featuring the SLS AMG with its iconic gullwing doors spread wide.

What Saab's team hadn't anticipated was the strategic maneuver by German automotive giant Mercedes-Benz.
What Saab’s team hadn’t anticipated was the strategic maneuver by German automotive giant Mercedes-Benz.

This visual spectacle overshadowed Saab’s lineup, illustrating the old adage that in business, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location—and, of course, size. The Mercedes advertisement, both literally and figuratively, cast a shadow over Saab’s efforts, showcasing the harsh realities of competitive marketing.

The Aftermath and Lessons Learned

The incident serves as a fascinating case study in the world of automotive marketing. Saab’s innovative attempt to circumvent traditional marketing channels highlighted the brand’s determination to remain relevant and visible amidst financial turmoil.


However, Mercedes-Benz’s overwhelming response exemplified the power of strategic positioning and the importance of anticipating competitors’ actions. This event not only showcased the cutthroat nature of automotive marketing but also underscored the significance of adaptability and strategic foresight in business strategies.

The Legacy of Saab

Despite the setback at NAIAS, the story of Saab’s unconventional marketing effort remains a compelling narrative of underdog resilience. It’s a reminder that while resources and location can provide an advantage, creativity and determination are equally vital. Saab’s journey through financial difficulties to the innovative display near NAIAS encapsulates the essence of a brand that, despite its challenges, refused to go quietly into the night. This episode in Saab’s history is a testament to the brand’s enduring legacy and its impact on the automotive industry.

Reflecting on a Marketing Marvel

As we look back on this intriguing chapter in marketing history, the Saab versus Mercedes-Benz episode offers valuable insights for marketers and business strategists alike. It reminds us of the importance of understanding the competitive landscape, the value of creative marketing solutions, and the unpredictable nature of public reception. Saab’s ambitious gambit and Mercedes-Benz’s assertive counteraction provide a rich narrative from which to draw lessons on strategy, competition, and the relentless pursuit of visibility in a crowded marketplace.

2 Comments

  • This reflection misses the fact that the amount of money you have contributes to how much you can keep your money flowing. The unfairness of this situation is pretty staggering, since they not only outmatched Saab Automobile’s efforts in a landslide, but they’re also taunting Saab in a way. It’s proof that you can’t always prevail when faced with our capitalist society’s giants. They don’t want competition and fair, free market. Just look at Microsoft

  • SAABs brand image was never what the SLS was or ever come close to Mercedes or Audi or BMW.
    The fact was, they built cars knowing they would only go to a specific clientele that would appreciate and understand giant billboards weren’t going to get their attention anyways.

Leave a Reply