Thursday, 12:00am
13 May 2004

Loved up and sold out

Forget brands. What you need is an intimate bond with your dandruff shampoo

Lovemarks By Rick Poynor

Written exclusively for

‘I love Head & Shoulders. I won’t buy or use anything else. It’s a Lovemark of mine.’ By his own admission, the man who wrote this touching tribute to dandruff shampoo has very little hair. He believes, like the Beatles, that ‘All You Need is Love’. He also wants us to know that he has homes in New York, St. Tropez and Auckland. His name is Kevin Roberts and he is CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.

It’s no secret that branding has become a bore. Once seen as the answer to everything, then attacked by No Logo activists as a modern malaise, the notion of the brand is now merely commonplace. If you are in marketing and communications, claiming to offer unique branding solutions is no longer much of a selling point. Saatchi & Saatchi’s answer is the ‘Lovemark’ – nothing less, they claim, than ‘the future beyond brands’. Of course, the Lovemark too is actually a brand, but it’s a brand that supposedly transcends ordinary brands, a brand able to inspire ‘loyalty beyond reason’, a brand that creates an intimate emotional connection that its consumers just can’t live without.

Now Roberts has written a book in which he expounds this not very hard to grasp idea at wearying length. Lovemarks (powerHouse books) is by turns wince-makingly sentimental, infuriatingly self-satisfied and intolerably patronising. Its design suggests that it might be aimed at six-year-olds. Almost every page has key phrases pulled out in large, brightly coloured type. An entire spread is devoted to the word LOVE – yes, it’s a big emotion, we get it. Like so many business publications purporting to reveal the way forward, the book is full of statements of the obvious masquerading as special insights.

Three things apparently set a Lovemark apart: mystery, sensuality and intimacy. These are the qualities needed to make a deep emotional relationship and no product or service will attain high levels of respect and love – the hallmark of the Lovemark – without them. But is this an entirely subjective measure or is it intended to have objective value, too? Roberts might regard Head & Shoulders as a Lovemark, but it means nothing to me. On the Lovemarks website [] visitors nominate their personal Lovemarks, giving reasons, and other people vote on them. The implication is that the majority view decides whether something is a Lovemark or not. So all the Lovemark is really doing is identifying the most popular brands in a given sector. If you prefer something else, the concept has nothing useful to say to you.

No matter how much rhetoric Roberts piles on about helping the people and making the world a better place, the fundamental aim remains the same – in his own words, ‘huge commercial benefits’ and ‘premium profits’. The field trips he enthuses about where corporate researchers go into homes and rummage around in the owners’ fridges and laundry baskets are gruesome, and the description of Kodak’s marketing to teenagers is equally shameless. ‘We need to have an absolutely relentless focus on what’s top-of-mind with teens today, because we know their habits change. And we have to remain a beacon to teen girls across the nation, letting them know that it’s really okay to be themselves.’ Cheers!

It’s not enough that business enjoys unwarranted levels of power and influence and bestows vast rewards on the lucky few, while deluging us with idiotic propaganda. It now seeks to present itself as some kind of well meaning global saviour, even as it tries to annex just about every worthwhile aspect of life – mystery, sensuality, intimacy, love – for commercial purposes. ‘At Saatchi & Saatchi,’ Roberts reports, ‘our pursuit of Love and what it could mean for business has been focused and intense.’ If that sentence doesn’t make you feel even a little bit queasy, then they have got to you already.

At the Lovemarks site, there is a thing called the Lovemark Profiler. How would Saatchi & Saatchi fare? The first step was to answer four questions with a Yes or No. Was Saatchi & Saatchi the best in its class? Sorry, no. Would I recommend it to a friend? No. Am I confident it wouldn’t do anything I wouldn’t want to be associated with? Nope. Is it good value for the experience it offers? No, the book isn’t. Back came the answer. ‘With Lovemarks and respect it’s all or nothing . . . It doesn’t look like Saatchi & Saatchi has the level of respect it needs in order to become a Lovemark.’ They said it.