Oh, Lord

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Lord Maurice Saatchi, the advertising living legend and gigantically-bespectacled parliamentarian, spoke in Cannes Thursday with a message borrowed from Thoreau:

Simplify. Simplify.

Actually, Saatchi's message was just "Simplify," because it is his contention that every brand can have its meaning to the consumer reduced to one word. "Each brand can only own one word," he said. "Each word can only be owned by one brand." How very provocative. In fact, Saatchi's 2005-word speech on "One word equity" can itself be reduced to one word.


Yes, brands must be easily understood by consumers. They must, indeed, have a meaning. And, obviously, the simpler and more straightforward the meaning, the better. DeBeers has managed to reduce diamonds to "forever," and more power to them. Saatchi's example is brand America, which he says can be distilled to "freedom" -- and who's to argue?

But for most brands, that sort of reductionism is not only absurd, but reckless. If you speak in one-word declarations imagining some sort of perfectly distilled profundity, you're apt to get one word in response: "Huh?"

Let's say, just for argument's sake, that the irreduceable essence of Jaguar is "luxury." Well, then, what's Mercedes? Lexus? Hermes? Nobody's proposing verbosity, but words are themselves very handy tools for narrowing things down. "Affordable luxury," for instance, requires but one extra word to tell a very different story. Too much reductionism in that case doesn't confer meaning; it obliterates it. If you carve out a brand statement and keep slicing away at it, eventually you slice right into the bone. Marlboro, the greatest brand in history, can be defined as "rugged individualism." If it had been simply "rugged," it would have been the brand for cowboys.

Saatchi's own most famous brand idea not only wasn't one word, it wasn't even about his brand. The Tory party was returned to power by finding the essence of the competition in not one but three words: "Labour isn't working."

Then, of course, there is that famous story about the power of words: One fine April afternoon, a copywriter goes out for a stroll. He passes a beggar, who sat on a pavement next to an empty basket and a sign reading simply: "blind."

"Mind if I just scribble something here?" he asks the beggar.

"Be my guest, friend," the beggar replies.

And hour later, the basket is overflowing with bank notes. The ad man had added the words: "It is spring, and I am..."
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