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Frankenstein’s Monster Looking for Love

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After meeting the Professor I was eager to meet the people behind the billboards – the movers and shakers of the advertising world. After reaching out to a journalist for contacts, the right person responded to my request for an interview. I soon found myself waiting in the reception area of São Paulo office of the most famous advertising agency of all time: Saatchi & Saatchi.

The environment was sleek, white, cool – like a Mondrian painting in three dimensions. It spoke of efficiency, purity of vision, and an absence of distraction. The only splash of color was a big modernist painting covering one wall. The painting showed two people casually posed against a verdant green background.

Being a leading global agency with one hundred and forty offices in seventy-six countries, Saatchi & Saatchi seemed the right place to look for new answers. If any, this agency represented the whole advertising industry, and I was excited to get into their heads.

Especially because much has happened since their heady days of the 1980s.

Founded in 1970 by brothers Maurice (now Lord Saatchi) and art collector Charles, Saatchi & Saatchi’s early work included their campaign „Labour Isn’t Working“ on behalf of the Conservative Party before the 1979 UK general election, and ongoing campaigns for British Airways. The agency was seen as producing breakthrough creative work with a bold attitude. The Saatchi brothers quickly expanded the company through business acquisitions. They wanted to become the largest advertising agency in the world. They succeeded, but the very same strategy also let to major turmoil for the agency.

In 1997, Saatchi & Saatchi officially dropped the word „Advertising“ from its name, and their new global VRO Kevin Roberts instead turned Saatchi & Saatchi to an idea company and gave rise to the „lovemarks“ philosophy. This met with skepticism in the advertising world – it seemed like what some people would have called „the advertising monster“ was starting to fall in love.


Lovemarks was a marketing concept intended to replace the idea of brands. The idea was first promoted in 2004 by Kevin Roberts, CEO of the agency, in a book of the same name. In the book Roberts asserted, „Brands are running out of juice.“ He considered that „love“ was what was needed to rescue brands. Roberts asked, „What builds loyalty that goes beyond reason? What makes a truly great love stand out?“

According to Roberts, the following are the key ingredients to creating lovemarks:

Mystery – Great stories: past, present and future; taps into dreams, myths and icons, and inspiration.

Sensuality – Sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Intimacy – Commitment, empathy, and passion. Roberts explained that ordinary products are commodities that command neither love nor respect. Fads may attract love, but without respect this love is no more than temporary infatuation. Brands can attract lasting respect, but not necessarily love. Lovemarks command both respect and love. This is achieved through the trinity of mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.

For a brand to transcend to a lovemark, it has to create loyalty beyond reason, which requires emotional connections that generate the highest levels of love and respect for the brand.

In the current world of marketing, there are a plethora of brands that use the concept of lovemarks behind their marketing strategies, such as The Coca-Cola Company, whose TV marketing campaigns are focused on transmitting emotions to the viewers of their advertisements.


I had not waited long in the cool white reception area before Victor, the strategic planning director for Saatchi & Saatchi Brazil, came out and greeted me. He said that he would rather talk outside, so we left his office and soon were strolling through the beautiful and immense Parque de Ibirapuera. Here in São Paulo’s version of Central Park, visitors can wander the paths beside pleasant lagoons or rent a bicycle and cycle the pathways.

While we were walking, I engaged Victor in conversation.

I asked him about the billboard ban in São Paulo.

„At this time, we really don’t care about the ban,“ he replied matter-of-factly. „It’s not an issue anymore. Sure, when it first happened it was a big hit. A lot of people were talking about it. But now even advertising marketers don’t talk about it anymore.

„We have a business model that was implemented in the 1950s and it’s been the same for the past sixty years. The work has changed a lot in terms of media consumption, technology, relationships, and what people desire for their life.

„If you compare the next generation like the Gen Y (also known as the Millennial Generation), it’s completely different. For us, constructing lovemarks was necessary not because of competition but because people don’t care anymore about brands. They just care about themselves.

„It’s kind of cliché, but the next generation want to be happy. Young people don’t want to follow an idol. They have personal idols, such as a friend who has a band they love. This band will sell their music to just ten people, but those ten people love this band and they don’t care about the famous singers like Bono from U2. These are our idols.“

Victor laughed and made me remember that I was not in my twenties anymore. „Brands have less meaning for them because they don’t follow idols,“ he said. „They don’t follow philosophies. Their philosophy is their own philosophy, that’s the point.“

Defining Meaning

I said to Victor that „meaning“ is quite an interesting word here to speak. The ‘meaning quotient’ coined by McKinsey is looking how we – and especially the new generation – are hunting for meaning. It’s like we are starving for it. It seems like we have hit the roof of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. How can companies help us find meaning?

„We have to put meanings into brands,“ said Victor, „Because, for instance, Coca-Cola doesn’t sell soft drinks.

They sell happiness. Virgin doesn’t sell flight tickets. They sell freedom. These deeper meanings go beyond language or culture. They work globally.

„For example, let’s say that Samsung is the first company to have a certain kind of television. I walk through the electronics fair and I go to the LG stand and there’s a big display saying they too are the first one to have this kind of television. But that’s not the fight. The fight is about meaning. Why I would buy a Samsung instead of LG? It’s the same technology, probably made in the same factory. If you don’t have meaning for people, and if you don’t have values that people can recognize, you won’t have a chance.

„Value is a meaning. A classic example is Microsoft versus Apple, where you could say Microsoft is a great brand while Apple is a lovemark. It has something more. It’s kind of like a movement.

„Apple doesn’t sell products. They challenge the status quo. That’s what Apple is about. And by the way, they sell computers.“

But is Apple really still fighting the status quo? From being the underdog with a four percent market share to capturing twenty-five percent of the computer and tablet market, and now without its charismatic leader who embodied all their values, we might see a company that really needs to reinvent itself. Values are not just a label you put on your product; it’s something organic you need to nurture all the time in a volatile world.

Our walk eventually led us to the restaurant at Sao Paulo’s Modern Art Museum (MAM), located like a gem in the middle of the park. The museum was founded in 1948 as an initiative of Francisco Matarazzo So- brinho and his wife, famed aristocrat and art patron Yolanda Penteado.Established in Ibirapuera Park, its development was inspired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and was one of the first establishments dedicated to modern art in Brazil.

Over lunch, we continued our discussion.

„Take this restaurant, for example,“ said Victor. „Maybe the meaning is not to change the world but to serve the best food they know how to cook, for the best price they can offer, and make people have a great moment while they are eating.“

It’s simple, yet there are so many restaurants where you’re left with a bad experience, like the people there don’t care about you. You can taste it when people have prepared the food with love.

Human Values

„You have to find a human value that can be expressed in an ad in different countries,“ continued Victor, „and that’s hard. It’s really hard because you can make a list of several brands that have the same values and the same target market. So how can you make one more gratifying than the other? You have the same value and you have the same meaning in people’s lives.

„It’s hard, it’s really hard, and this is the challenge facing many brands. I worked for a huge brand here. It’s the biggest beer brand in Brazil…“

While he was talking I became surprised at how much Victor was still talking about ads and brands despite the fact that Saatchi & Saatchi wanted to be known as an idea agency that created lovemarks, not an advertising agency working for brands. But at the same time he was also talking about values and meaning. I sensed he wanted to solve today’s problems using yesterday’s solutions.

„Take Guaraná Antarctica,“ he said. „It’s a very Brazilian brand. You can list three Brazilian brands that people would recognize worldwide, or Brazilians recognize as a real Brazilian brand, and this is one of them. But this is an attribute, not a value. Being Brazilian is an attribute; being natural is an attribute. Being from the Amazon rainforest, and using the fruit of guaraná from the Amazon forest, is an attribute.

„The problem is that there’s a lack of meaning for this brand. People drink it, but when they choose between Coca-Cola and Guaraná Antarctica in terms of brand, not in terms of the soft drink itself, they would rather choose Coca-Cola instead of Guaraná. This is because Coca-Cola has a lot of meaning. That’s why Coca-Cola has fifty percent of the market and Guaraná has ten percent.

„It’s not about the company, because you can have the same logistics and the same great employees. Guaraná Antarctica cannot overcome the meaning of Coca-Cola. Guaraná Antarctica can have good prices, good logistics, and a good business-to-business relationship, but in the end the supermarkets would rather sell Coca-Cola than Guaraná. Not because people prefer the beverage itself, but because people prefer the brand.

„I can say all that because I’ve worked for this brand for four years, so I know what I’m talking about. Guaraná’s message is, ‘We are natural, we are refreshing, we are for young people, and we are from the Amazon.’ Meanwhile, Coca-Cola says one word: ‘Happiness.’ That’s stronger than being natural. Would you rather have a natural life, or a happy life?“

It was a very good point and not just valid if you sold soft drinks. Like the professor had pointed out, emotions are also valid for a business selling to other businesses. Then why can’t Guaraná become the leading brand?

„If I promise happiness,“ said Victor, „I will only succeed in reinforcing what Coca-Cola says. It will be hard beating Coca-Cola using the same language that it uses.“

So you kind of have to figure out something that’s even better than Coca-Cola?

„Yes. This is what Pepsi does. They talk about being the next generation.“

I thought that was very interesting. What about McDonald’s, because they have also promoted themselves as the happy restaurant? You can have a Happy Meal, just like Coca-Cola sells happiness. I don’t know about Brazil, but especially in Denmark, and also in the US, consumers have new values. They want to be healthy, and everyone knows that McDonald’s is unhealthy food.

„The same in Brazil,“ said Victor. „Not the same level, but because of that they are offering different meals right now. For instance, in Brazil they have a very popular dish with rice and beans and beef, chicken, or salmon. It’s very popular. And they sell that at McDonald’s. This is not fast food; this is real food, home food. They are trying to reinvent the business. Their signs used to read, ‘McDonald’s Hamburgers.’ Now they just have ‘McDonald’s’ because they still sell hamburgers, French fries, and all those chicken-somethings.“

Could it be, I asked, because of the high level of education, the transparency, it’s getting increasingly difficult to sell junk food? Because now we can suddenly say, „Hey, it’s a bad product.“

„I have two kids,“ said Victor. „They have never drunk soft drinks. We have never gone to McDonald’s because I don’t think it’s healthy for them. I chose to do this at the very beginning of their lives because it will give them a chance when they’re young to have healthy lives. It doesn’t mean that my kids will never drink soft drinks or eat hamburgers. It means that it will be easier to resist even when all their friends are eating French fries and Big Macs. That type of food will seem strange to them, and it won’t taste very good.“

„I think education is the key. Ignorance makes it easier to manipulate people.“.

Is This Really Something New?

Victor was a very sympathetic guy, but as he continued talking I really couldn’t see the connection between the work done by Victor and his team in São Paulo and the fact that Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts was claiming that marketing was dead. That Saatchi & Saatchi was transformed from an „advertising“ agency to an „idea“ agency sounded compelling, but it could well be a „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ or old wine in a new bottle.

Maybe it was hype from the advertising industry. Their „ideas“ for the beer brand Skol ‘Gringo Your Selfie’ campaign consisted of letting Brazilians take selfies with tourists.

For the instant noodle producer Nissin, they’ve proposed a scheme to cook instant noodles in outer space. An unmanned rocket will take a capsule that was built with the purpose of carrying the ingredients for the recipe created by French chef Emmanuel Bassoleil to an altitude of more than one hundred kilometres, and then eject it into space. The idea is for the noodles to reach the boiling point when the capsule passes through the mesosphere on its way back to earth. (The mesosphere is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is responsible for, among other things, burning up mete

ors and now also for preparing space noodles!)

The rocket is slated to be launched in January 2015, kicking off the celebration for the fiftieth anniversary of Nissin Miojo Lámen in Brazil.

Shooting a space rocket to the mesosphere to cook noodles in the name of changing the history of cuisine forever might sound innovative – but it could also sound like a cheap new gimmick to get peoples’ attention without any real substance.

Some of the advertising industry’s biggest initiatives – from Edward Bernays’s „torches of freedom“ to Saatchi & Saatchi’s endless advertising campaigns – confirm what the Canadian neurologist Donald B. Calne said: „The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.“

Lots of companies still have to learn that fact. But too often the emotional appeals have no substance, no values, and end up being just another way to interrupt via the mass media.

The Saatchi & Saatchi that used to shake up the old establishment in the conservative United Kingdom seems to have become the fat cat itself. But Saatchi & Saatchi is just one of the many traditional advertising agencies that needs to reinvent themselves. Lots of them are bleeding or closing down because times have changed. Some of them have tried to succeed in the digital world, only to have created a lot of noise there. Their Facebook ads are often just physical billboards turned digital.

Leaving Victor in the peaceful surroundings of the city park, I reentered the chaotic city. Maybe the green park made the city look prettier, but it was overpowered by the rest of the city that was all concrete and pollution. Maybe it was the nature of the advertising industry, that it could only put on a mask on its clients but fundamentally not change anything. The ad men wanted to make their clients the biggest but not the best in the market. That is a fundamental difference in your business strategy.

I started to walk through the streets, wondering where to go. I felt I had reached a dead end in São Paulo’s labyrinth. After speaking with the Professor and the Agency, it was time to find a company.