Bernie and the Saab brand

So, Bernie Ecclestone has thrown his hat into the ring as a possible purchaser of Saab from GM. It’s another interesting spotlight on the value of a brand. BGC Partners’ senior strategist, Howard Wheeldon, wondered, ‘Why on earth would the 79-year-old Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, together with partner Genii Capital, of course, be interested in acquiring the ailing Swedish-based carmaker Saab from GM?’.  Well, I would not even hazard a guess at what goes on beneath Bernie’s silver mop, but one thing is certain, it has nothing to do with current models, production facilities or distribution networks. In fact, it probably has little to do with tangible assets at all (though you can be sure the accountants have been all over Saab’s books like a rash). No, it’s all about the brand.

But it is an interesting case in many ways, and another example of a brand which is way out of balance with the scale and value of the business. We cannot even look at the value of the pragmatic knowledge we have about the brand. I’m old enough to remember the glamour days of Saab rallying with Pat Moss and Erik Carlsson, but I doubt that may of today’s consumers will.

It is more about the emotional meta-knowledge we have about the brand, which has really done nothing physically for a few decades. Creating brand archetypes for buyers of the Saab brand (I mean consumers, not Mr Ecclestone et al) we would probably be looking at a lover of the quirky who did not want to be pigeon-holed; a family or company driver beyond the hot-hatch days but financially out of the supercar bracket. The hint of the ‘as driven in rallies’ and more recently the Turbo giving a degree of spice to the brand choice. He or she probably carries a personal narrative of being a bit of a nonconformist which is reinforced every time they insert the ignition key, down next to the hand brake.

There is all sorts of speculation about what Bernie will do with the brand is the purchase is successful, though he has hinted that he might see it having a future in motorsport. That could be an interesting brand strategy to endorse the pedigree and raise profile before rehabilitation of the brand in the consumer market.


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