Talk with advertising legend Maurice Saatchi
Maurice Saatchi: "Just one word"
Lord Maurice Saatchi (63), in smartly tailored suit and immaculately manicured finger nails, now runs M&C Saatchi plc from his office in Golden Square, Soho, with a good view of the London Eye.
Saatchi is polite, but inscrutable – one could just have easily interviewed a sphinx.
He looks at you inquisitively through the big heavy glasses which were his trade mark during the heyday of predecessor company Saatchi & Saatchi in the 70s and 80s. This was also when the trendsetter helped Britain's Conservative party back to power.
Today's member of the House of Lords still talks affectionately about ex-premier Maggie, now Baroness Thatcher and better known to continentals as "The Iron Lady".
Recently, Lord Saatchi has written a number of articles on advertising in The Financial Times. Using an ad man's Occam's razor, Saatchi wants his clients to pare away the sales hype until they promote themselves in the simplest of possible terms. True to form, Maurice Saatchi remains the enfant terrible of the advertising industry.
Lord Saatchi, why do you proclaim the death of modern advertising at only 50?
The advertising industry has been afflicted by a number of insecurities. Technological advance, sociological change and the insights gained from research in neuroscience have created major problems and challenges for advertisers.
Why can’t modern advertising cope with the latest technological advances?
Today’s consumers can play with an iPod, download a game and send an email simultaneously, which leads to a phenomenon called Continuous Partial Attention (CPA).
In the past, Procter & Gamble gave a very successful advertising measurement to the industry called Day After Recall (DAR). This simply measures the percentage of people who recall seeing your advertisement the next day.
CPA has now killed DAR because, if you’re doing five things at once, you are far less likely to recall something.
What sociological changes have accompanied this technical progress?
Once, the family unit gathered together in the evening to watch TV in the living room. Those days are over. Irreversible technological advance now means that each child often has its own computer, TV etc.
Thus, the standard 30-second TV commercial for the captive family audience of the post-war years has become redundant or at least far less effective.
Why has the world of marketing been influenced by neuroscience?
This was employed to overcome the fundamental research problem whereby the conscious mind of the respondent can mislead deliberately or accidentally.
Neuroscience, because it measures movements in the brain, is able to avoid one of the pitfalls of normal behavioural research techniques where I ask you what you think you would be likely to do.
But is neuroscientific research itself completely reliable?
No, but if does offer a measurable glimpse into the movements of the brain. If it was, a man would have a modern lamp which could tell whether a product was going to be successful or an advertisement effective.
If there was such a person, he would make Bill Gates seem like a pauper. Around $600bn is spent on advertising annually; and such a lamp would also solve Lord Leverhulme’s conundrum: “I know that half of my money is wasted on advertising, but regrettably I don’t know which half.”
What then do neuroscientists tell us?
That they can detect two classes of person: Digital Natives under 25 and Digital Immigrants over 25. The Digital Native learns technology like a mother tongue, whereas the Digital Immigrant will always speak the new language with a thick accent.
Neuroscience has also found that the Digital Native’s brain is structured differently to the Digital Immigrant’s due to the digital input it has received as he or she was growing up.
What consequences does this have for brand advertising?
Digital Natives are far more capable of screening out input. They are ruthless editors of information because they are receiving so much more of it.
So what must the advertiser do in order to gain attention?
If Digital Natives are ruthless in their editing, then advertisers will have to be equally so in their thinking. We at M&C Saatchi always had a core tenet which was “brutal simplicity of thought”.
We have now taken this one step further and proclaim that what is required in this new world is “One Word Equity”.
I assert that each brand can only own one word globally and that each word can only own one brand. According to this new business model companies compete for the global ownership of just one word.
This one word will define the particular characteristic, emotion, performance or value which they want to have instantly associated with their brand across the world.
Once they have found that one word, they must develop themselves in every possible way in order for their brand to be as synonymous as possible with it.
But why do it?
Charles Dickens was paid by the word. Times change. As in the near future all the world will be composed of Digital Natives, the goal is to give people a précis. I regard the précis as a modern form of good manners for busy, time-stressed people.
Explain the process of finding that one word?
First one must get from a paragraph, which anybody can write, to a sentence, which is very hard and contentious, to a word. It is a difficult mental process and involves what Bertrand Russell called “the painful necessity of thought”, but it is essential to do.
Could you give some one-word equity examples from the consumer goods industry?
Procter & Gamble come quite close to what I am talking about. Ariel, the world’s number one detergent brand, was built on only three words: “impossible stain remover”.
With Snickers, Mars has created the world’s number one confectionary brand using only two words: “hunger satisfaction”.
How will this kind of intellectual discipline make them more effective?
It’s more than discipline; it’s a test. The business world is governed by the Darwinian principle of survival. Those with a competitive advantage go forward, and for the rest extinction inevitably follows.
It is an astonishing fact that of all the top 1,200 companies in the USA in 1900 only eight still exist today. Today, companies and brands need to ruthlessly edit what they are trying to say in order to survive.
Are you claiming that one word could give your clients a 100 per cent market share?
No, but it will give a client the share which that word occupies in the mind of the buyers in that category. Also there is going to be a word whose ownership will let you survive globally in a category. If you don’t own a word, you are not going to.
How can a company ascertain the extent to which it owns a word?
We have developed tools to help companies do this. Via, for instance, internet search engines we define for a client what its “word share”, or share of ownership of a specific word, is.
The more others are associated with your word, the less effective you will be. In fact, the competition of the future will be a battle for the control of single words.
Surely any company can create its own one-word equity?
We have interviewed the Marketing Directors of the top 100 global brands, as defined by the British brand-research company Interbrand. We found that 80 per cent of them agreed that stronger brands could be described in fewer words than weaker ones.
They also agreed that the very top brands could be described in one word. Interestingly only around 10 per cent believed that they could do the same for their own brand.
This shows that they could see there was a strong need for one word, but that they were more than aware of the difficulty of doing so.
The Saatchi brothers made a significant contribution towards helping Maggie Thatcher win her first election victory in 1979. What was the lady like really?
A heroic figure who will go into history as a prime minister who changed Britain. I am proud to have been a footnote in that history.
What was her one word? Strength?
There are 750,000 words in the English language. Which one defines M&C Saatchi?
Among your past personal trademarks were black and later white Yves St Laurent suits. Why are you wearing a grey suit today?
I suppose I must be a victim of Freud’s Law of Ambivalence.
Related article in German: Interview by Mike Dawson in Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 43, 27.10.2006