Why Lovemarks Are More Valid Than Ever, or Welcome to the Age of Now

Saatchi's Kevin Roberts on the Next Stage to Delivering Priceless Value

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Kevin Roberts
Kevin Roberts

I was gripped by fear when I became CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997. I had been a brand marketer for 30 years and I knew that the marketing world was standing on the abyss.

Brands had been managed, measured and manipulated into oblivion. Parity had been achieved across price, distribution, quality, design and value. Brands had been invented originally to create and justify a premium; now they were being "parity-ed." The rationality vampires were running the show. Energy was distributed evenly, not punctuated in hot bursts. Thermodynamically speaking, this is "heat death," dissipation of energy to a point of inertia, brutal nothingness. I needed a game changer.

Reframing the question became vital. It wasn't, "How to breathe new life into brands?" It became, "What comes after brands?" The Archimedes lever was an insight from neuroscientist Donald Calne: Reason leads to conclusions; emotion leads to action. This appealed tremendously. As a sales guy -- diapers, detergent, fizzy stuff in fun bottles -- I knew that action was the only space to be in. Shipping cases. 100-day plans. Meet, beat and repeat. I felt sure that emotional, not rational factors were the key to the next world. The future would be won on relationships, not just transactions. Yet, the client world ran mostly on rational appeals and exchanges, pummeling people with "-er" words like whiter, brighter, cleaner, faster, newer and -- the race-to-the-bottom word -- cheaper.

"All revolutions start with language" said Alan Webber, editor of Fast Company, after he had heard my brands-in-heat-death rap and began pulling new phraseology out of me for a story. I knew that if people loved something rather than merely liked it, they would be loyal beyond reason, beyond price, beyond recession. Lovemarks? The future beyond brands, infused with mystery, sensuality and intimacy. Delivering premium margins because people don't merely like them, they love them.

Love was the central thought; Lovemarks the place to go. Conception was 1998. First public outing in 2001. First book in 2004. Seven years on, Ad Age asks "Where is it going?"

It's said that love is the most rewarding road and never the easiest. Lovemarks was like a hand grenade in the boardroom, everyone ducking for cover if ever the "L word" was mentioned. In our own organization we came to differentiate people as Deniers, Decorators, and Doers. The warm embrace of consumers throughout the world was the saving grace. We took our thinking over the heads of our own people, over clients, over the industry, direct to the public, aka those people who buy the stuff we make and market. Talk to a consumer about brands they identify with and they will go cross-eyed. Ask them about their Lovemarks and a stream starts flowing, eyes open wide. No brand manual required. Mike Ullman, CEO of JCPenney, responded the same way in 2006 when he appointed us to the account. This was endorsement from the mainstream.

Fast forward to 2010, when we won 70 new clients for our network with Lovemarks. Prius and Cheerios were two U.S. brands that got the Lovemarks treatment in 2010, as did Cadbury in Argentina, T-Mobile in the U.K. and Europe, Head & Shoulders in China. The book portfolio has sold 250,000 copies in 18 languages. Lovemarks research has been done in 50 categories in 80-plus countries. We have 20,000 consumer stories on lovemarks.com.

In the 2009 Book of Tens, Ad Age dubbed it an Idea of the Decade. So why has it held up? Brands are about the people who make them. Lovemarks are about the people who buy them. The first rule of marketing is to keep things simple. Brands invest in complexity. Lovemarks go straight for the heart.

In 1998, Google was a startup and Mark Zuckerberg was 14 years old. Today they have ushered in the Age of Now. New is effectively over; we're not looking to some event horizon for change to come; it's happening in real time. We live in the moment and we're happier for it. Participation and involvement are the keys to success. Here's what the shift from New to Now looks like:

Attention Participation
Information Inspiration
Distraction Interaction
Selling Product Adding Experiences
Future Promises Moments that Matter
Return on Investment Return on Involvement
Value Priceless Value
Pumping Markets Creating Movements

Which sounds more fun? The Age of Now is all about the mastery of emotional communication; not manipulation, but of having relationships, perfect "rules for the road" for the social-networking miasma that has grown around and through us. In the Era of New marketing, it was all about your product. In the Age of Now it's all about the single question consumers have of you: "How will you improve my life?" Answering this is to deliver priceless value.

Every company is bent on building the relationship with its audience, because Next is about deepening the feeling, not just extending the reach. Lovemarks is a universal guide to relationships. What more potent triangle than mystery, sensuality and intimacy might you need to build long-term love? Teach that, Harvard Business School.

The way the world is heading, the future looks less calculating /reptilian, and more connective/emotional. We are seeing national indexes of happiness, insurrections against control, and revolts against materialism.

What will Lovemarks look like in five years? Here are three ways Lovemarks might expand to change the world:

To offset the massive oversupply of left-brain thinking in today's engineering-driven corporations, chief creative officers are appointed to the C-suite. Intel's appointment of Black Eyed Peas' frontman Will.i.am as director of creative innovation is a future pointer.

New emotional forces will enter the global economic framework. By 2021 the E7 -- the seven major emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey -- will surpass the G7. E7 has my focus. Turkey just published "The Lovemarks Effect." I'm in India in March and China in April. Indonesia is the current hot spot on lovemarks.com.

Saatchi & Saatchi abandons advertising and enters retailing with a string of Lovemark stores operated by an Apple real-estate maestro; Lovemarks is nominated for the Nobel Prize in economics, but gets spiked; Oprah becomes president; divorce rates in the U.S. plunge; and peace breaks out with the Axis of Evil.

Happy Valentine's.

Kevin Roberts is CEO-worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi.
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