Roberts, Kevin

Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the author of Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, published by powerHouse Books. As CEO Worldwide of Ideas Company Saatchi & Saatchi, Kevin Roberts oversees an international team of more than 7,000 creative people in 82 countries. A prolific traveler and coveted speaker, he is a constant source of inspiration to thousands of people through his vision, clarity of purpose, and inimitable, straight-talking approach.

Lovemarks' lipstick red book cover asks …

This is a beautiful book. How did it come to look the way it does?

KR: We tried to make the book live, to walk the walk, talk the talk. It’s designed to be a lovemark. So, if you think that at bottom lovemarks are mystery, sensuality, and intimacy, the book is full of mystery. You’re not meant to know what’s going to happen on the next page. Is it going to be a picture? Is it going to be a post-it? Is it going to be a family photograph? Is it going to be a case study? There is no rhyme or reason. My inspiration was Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, who has said that he wrote all the chapters, shook them up, and put them in any order. It’s meant to have mystery in it.

For sensuality, we chose lipstick red. Tom uses a lot of red in his books, right?

Pantone PMS-032.

KR: There you go! [Laughs.] We figured that neither you nor Coca-Cola were probably wrong, so we veered away from your basic-looking business book. We paid a 30 percent premium for the Italian paper.

Yes, it’s beautiful paper.

KR: We were willing to pay the premium for that paper because I wanted people to feel it. I wanted it to feel like a glossy, high-quality fashion magazine. I wanted them to feel the sensuality of it. We used full color photographs because, again, I wanted to appeal to people’s visual senses. Most business books are black words on white paper and not very interesting.

Intimacy is important in a lovemark. We tried to make the book intimate, so it’s partly stories about me, my wife, my kids, my friends.

The book looks the way it looks because it’s meant to be a representation of a lovemark. And we want your auntie to read the book. Actually, we don’t want anyone to read the book, to tell you the truth. But we want your auntie to dip into it.

Well, that’s what we tried with Re-imagine!, to create something to be sampled, to be dipped into. Nobody reads a book from beginning to end anymore.

KR: Absolutely, forget it.

And to the degree that you can get something that they want to keep around, right, and dip into? I think you’ve been successful at that.

KR: That’s what we want. People ask me who I wrote the book for. I wrote the book for my mother-in-law, because branding and advertisement is part of pop culture now. And if you live in popular culture, there’s very few books that you can read about marketing and branding because they’re just written for marketing and branding people, which is hopeless.

Right. But, speaking of which, what exactly do you mean by a “lovemark”? And why do we need lovemarks now?

KR: Tom Peters, in the business he’s in, he’s a lovemark. There’s an emotional connection that people have to Tom far beyond his content, his presentations. People come into Tom originally because he wrote In Search of Excellence and he built respect with that watershed book. Then from that beginning, he has used mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.

I buy his books without looking at them, right? Because I’m loyal beyond reason: I don’t care about the price, I don’t care about the cover, I don’t really care about the topic. I just care because, yeah, s**t, I’m loyal to this guy’s thinking, and there’s going to be five things in here that I haven’t thought of. And there’s going to be five things in here that I’m going to use, and I am loyal to that idea beyond reason.

There is nobody else. I’m not going to go read Michael Porter’s next book without thoroughly checking it out and then probably ignoring it. The same with Hamel.

I think that people now are just bored with the whole commodification of things, no matter what industry you’re in. Whether it’s sports—teams have become commodities. Or fashion—now everything looks the same.

Go into a supermarket and have the worst experience of your life, right? I mean, go into a Walmart, even to the mighty Target, you know, where the experience is only one second better than Walmart’s.

Every shampoo you use gets rid of dandruff and makes your hair shiny. There is no such thing as “bad beer,” they all get you pissed. Well, I guess, unless you live in America. But, I mean, there is no such thing as “bad-tasting beer,” right?

Whether you drink Pepsi or Coke, you’re going to get a good refreshing hit of sugar and fizz, you know? So consumers are no longer going to be bothered with these PR words that everybody gives you: cheaper, whiter, stronger, bigger.

Consumers need to be emotionally engaged, they need to have a relationship. A lovemark is a brand that has moved up that respect axis. Adidas is one for many people. I went into the concept store in Seattle about three or four weeks ago. I didn’t need anything, didn’t want anything; $880 dollars later, I came out a happy guy.

I was up there talking to 3,000 university professors, so I’d had a very slow morning. [Laughs.] Yeah, I just walked along the street. I love Adidas, so I just—$880 bucks! Because I’m loyal beyond reason. I don’t care about the product, I don’t care if it makes women run faster than if they had a pair of Nikes on. [Laughs.] Or if it makes me look like David Beckham. I’m loyal beyond any of that rational crap.

Then there are the Apple concept stores. The best one is on Mercer Street, New York City. You know, there is no reason this company can still be in business. But I wouldn’t use anything except an iMac. I’ve got four iPods. That is tragic, right? It is tragic. Why did I go buy the mini iPod? Because yeah, it was stupid! But I don’t care. I don’t care, I’m loyal beyond reason to Steve Jobs, to Apple, because they put me at the heart of their thinking. They make Apple only for me, I think.

You’re buying into a club, right.

KR: That’s the intimacy part.

Got it.

KR: There’s only three words, right? Mystery, sensuality, intimacy. What you’ve just described is intimacy. This is a club, and it’s only for me and people like me. And it’s true, isn’t it? When you see someone with an iPod at an airport, you tend to talk to him. When you go into an agency or a company, if they’ve got Dell computers it says something. If they’ve got iMacs, you’re going to talk to the person who’s got the iMac on the desk because you know he’s in the club. That’s intimacy.

It’s also a sensuality thing, right? Because I remember when Apple first introduced the iMac in the five different colors. Prior to that, you know, computers were black or white. They used to be beige. I remember, I was driving along Sunset Boulevard in L.A. and I saw this big outdoor billboard on the day it was launched. It had the five colors, strawberry, grape, I can’t remember what the others were. Underneath the pictures of these colored computers was one word: “Yum.” “Yum” to sell a bloody computer? Man, I wanted to get up there and lick it. I mean, he appealed to my taste sensation, for a computer. What’s the guy doing?

And then, do you remember when he did the black one that you could see inside?


KR: That’s mystery, man. People used to come up to that and look at it on my desk to see what was in there. I said this in a speech once, “The iMac, when it was in its curved shape, was the most sensual product since the vibrator.” People would put their hands on it and stroke that soft shape.

Yeah, very biomorphic.

KR: That’s sensuality. Hell, and if you can do it with computers, imagine! So that’s what a lovemark is. People feel the world through their senses. For instance, I buy Tom’s books not because of what he writes in the books, but because of his presentations. He’s charismatic, electrifying, inspirational, funny, outrageous, challenging, provocative. So you go and buy the book, because he’s appealing to all your senses.

We tried to make Re-imagine! the book invoke that same experience as being at a presentation.

KR: You can do that with Tom, because you feel this stuff, and your body harbors memories. You can smell things that you grew up with. When you hear a song that you heard the first time you were dating, or when you got married or whatever, it can immediately take you into an emotional space. People have fantastic emotional memory. So when you get a Tom Peters book and you see some of the language that is written quite provocatively, he takes you straight back to the stage. It’s cool.

But on the “love” front—and you allude to this in your book—you’ve got something called Lovemarks; Tim Sanders wrote a book called Love is the Killer App. A friend of ours, Steve Farber, has written a book about extreme leadership. But the main acronym that drives the book is LEAP, and the “L” stands for love. There seems to be a lot of love in the air at the same time; in Sweden, for instance, the Funky Business authors say that 40 percent of households are single people, and that that number is increasing worldwide. Now what’s going on here?

KR: It’s horrific, isn’t it? Two-thirds of people over the age of 70 live alone [28% of people in the U.S. age 65 and over are in single-person households, according to the 2000 U.S. Census—tpc]; they’re going to die alone. The average length of a marriage in the U.S. is seven years. One in two kids in urban America is born out of wedlock. You’re seeing people not having kids.

So what are you seeing? You’re seeing people hungry for relationships, hungry for intimacy. They’ve lost trust in all our institutions. Does anybody trust the Church anymore? You gotta be kidding me, right? Does anybody trust government? You sure as hell don’t trust the company you work for, right? Because that’s going to be Enron, or they’re going to lay you off anyway next week and outsource you, etc., etc. So there’s no trust. You can’t trust the family unit because you probably haven’t seen your father. People are looking for relationships, they’re looking for intimacy, they’re looking for bonding. They’re not interested in transactions.

They’re frightened s**tless by the fact that we’re at war, by terrorism and brutality, and who knows what’s going to happen next. They are looking for a relationship, whether that’s with an author, an idea, a brand, a product. If you don’t give them that, you’re certainly never going to be able to charge a premium. You’ve got to remember, brands are only invented to charge a premium. That was the purpose of a brand; it didn’t have any other. “Recognize me, desire me, have faith in me, trust me, pay more for me.”

We recently spoke with Michael Silverstein, who’s written the book, Trading Up with Neil Fiske. And there’s a similar thing going on there where people, regardless of their economic status, are willing to spend inordinate amounts of money on something that matters to them. And they’ll go to Wal*Mart and buy all the necessities so that they can scrimp enough money to go out and buy some extravagant stereo, or whatever.

KR: I’m not in exactly that place. I’m more in Toyota-land, which is unleashing the power of paradox. I would like to give everybody the car of their dreams, make a boatload of money on that, but give them a car at the lowest price they’ve ever paid. You should make premiums through cost reduction and through being smart, not through pricing action.

I think the role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. We’re going to do that by giving people choices, giving them self-esteem. But fundamentally, we’ll do this by including the 2.3 billion people who exist on less than $2 a day, and turning them into active participants in a free, capitalistic, choice-driven, self-esteem-driven market.

To do that, P&G has to reduce the price of the diapers to six cents. Toyota will go into China, Russia, India, and Brazil, and when they do, they’ll go in the Toyota way. Meaning they’re going to give people a fantastic driving experience. But they’re going to give it to them at a price that is affordable to the consumers in those countries.

And they’re going to have their dealers make money, and they’re going to make money themselves. That’s what U.S. business right now, quite frankly, is totally incapable of doing. Just look at Detroit. Look at any business, really, in the U.S. We are a high priced, high cost, low innovation society.

When you’re at Procter & Gamble, for instance, are you talking to them about how do we get this diaper down to six cents?

KR: Absolutely. That’s exactly the conversation I had with their chief executive, A.G. Lafley, recently.

What’s his reaction to that?

KR: “You’re dead right, baby!” And over and above that, you’ve got to make it environmentally friendly. Sustainability is no longer going to be a “nice to have” or something to talk about. I was in Tokyo a week before last with the top guys at Toyota. Toyota just made a trillion yen profit, okay? They have a market capitalization that is now bigger than Ford, Chrysler, and GM combined. How ’bout that?

Well, it doesn’t surprise me.

KR: They made more profit this year than those three companies combined. Wall Street is rewarding Toyota because, yes, they’re economically profitable. They have no doubt, right? But they’re also saying, “Yes, you are environmentally profitable,” because automobiles, following obesity, will be the next tobacco. Toyota is leading the way with the hybrid Prius. American automobile manufacturers are in a state of denial on the whole environmental, gas-guzzling thing.

So you’re way beyond acting just like an ad agency.

KR: Ahh, there’s no future in that. Our dream is to be the hottest idea shop on the planet. I’m more excited about talking to you than I was hosting Squawk Box at CNBC recently. Talking to you guys is more exciting because you’re at the ideas edge of the business. It’s much more important to me that guys like you are talking about us than Time or the Wall Street Journal or BusinessWeek, and all that rubbish.

How do you energize Saatchi & Saatchi to become the premier idea shop on the planet?

KR: We purchased them six years ago. We started off with a dream, which is to be revered as the hothouse of the world-changing idea. We changed our name from “ad agency” to “ideas company.” Our focus is to create and perpetuate lovemarks. Our spirit is, “Nothing is impossible.” We hire anthropologists, sociologists, misfits, authors, writers, creative people.

And we’ve changed our compensation structure so we don’t get paid fees or commissions; we get paid as a percent of sales. So we go to P&G because we handled $2 billion worth of Procter business. We changed our whole compensation structure. You’re not going to pay me like an accountant or a lawyer, for time. You’re not going to pay me a commission. It’s really simple, man: I want a royalty on everything you sell.

So then you see that as basically getting paid for ideas.

KR: Absolutely!

That’s cool.

KR: We also have a group called Fahrenheit 212. These guys are an accelerator, and what they tell anybody is, “If you’re currently taking one or two years to get a product to market, we’ll get you there every time in three months. And by the way, we don’t want payment for that, we just want 3 percent of everything you sell for the next three years.”

And does that go down easily?

KR: Not easily, no. But it goes down effectively. You should see how we do the deal. We have Ghanaian storytellers, we have 30 scientists working for us. It’s amazing. It’s a thing that nobody else has got or done. And we haven’t talked to anybody about it. It’s a very Tom Peters thing.

Thank you for your time.

KR: Thanks for your help and support. You guys are inspiring me.

Glad to hear it. That’s what we’re trying to do.

KR: It works!

Thanks again.