Monday, 30 April 2012

Kevin Roberts. And The Saatchi + Saatchi scandal.

Kevin Roberts is really causing a stir.

He's 63 from Lancaster and has amazingly come up the ladder. A brand manager at Mary Quant, to international new products manager at Gillette, to Group Marketing manager at P&G, to regional VP at Pepsi and since 1997, worldwide global CEO of Saatchis. Not bad. His blog is here

Saatchis of course, are the quintessential traditional Ad Agency, a space I know very well indeed, having grown up with it (my Dad was at Saatchis and my Mum was at CDP).

I also know it very well having spent a lifetime as owner/CEO of Irish Ad agencies, some big (McConnell's/Lowe 88 million euro turnover was the number 1 agency here), and some small (AFA advertising had 7 employees when I started there 30 years ago). 

But I was steeped in it from the breakfast table and also having served 2 terms as President of The Institute of Advertising Practitioners (and later a Fellow) and as Chairman as The Advertising Press Club (and later a Fellow of the Marketing Institute). It matters not, except to give some more credibility for Kevin's position.

I'm friendly with the CEO's of most, if not all Irish agencies currently. When the Kevin Roberts story came out, the emails between us got hot.

Whilst I have been a traditional ad man all my life I have also been involved in the digital space for 15 years and am very enthused by it. Evangelistically so. The Kevin Roberts piece for me, was waiting to happen and hugely welcomed, because now I had something to point at and say, look don't listen to me, listen to Kevin. And so now had they, which is what they didn't want.

What he's saying is, as the header on this blog says, the world just changed. Here's an extract from The Drum;

During his colourful presentation, which followed on from a speech from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Roberts said: “I am a radical optimist, I don’t buy into all this recession talk. I do not think we are in a recessionary environment, but we do have too many recessionary leaders. To win today we all need to power things up and speed things up.

“We don’t just live in a VUCA world - a volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex world - we live in a super VUCA world. We live in a vibrant world where our kids are connecting to each other and to brands across the world with no money involved. To us this is a world that’s gone crazy.

“Strategy is dead. Who really knows that is going to happen anymore in this super VUCA world? The more time and money you spend devising strategies the more time you are giving you rivals to start eating your lunch.

“Management is dead. To win today you need a culture and an environment where the unreasonable power of creativity thrives. Ideas are today’s currency not strategy. Martin Luther King did not say ‘I have a vision statement’ did he? He had a dream. You have to make sure you have dreams and your brand also needs a dream.”

He went on to outline how successful business leaders need to harness creative thinking in the future, saying: “Business leaders need to become creative leaders. We need to change the language of business. Who wants to be a Chief Executive Officer? It sounds like you work for the government and who would want that? Being a Chief Excitement Officer would be better, don’t you think? The role of a good CEO is to get people to buy into their dreams and their company’s dreams.”

Roberts also went on to say that the age of the ‘big idea’ has gone.

“The big idea is dead. There are no more big ideas. Creative leaders should go for getting lots and lots of small ideas out there. Stop beating yourself up searching for the one big idea. Get lots of ideas out there and then let the people you interact with feed those ideas and they will make it big.”

“Leaders need to become emotional thinkers. The difference between rational thinking and emotional thinking is that rational thinking leads to conclusions and meetings and more meetings. Emotional thinking leads to action.”

“There are three secrets to emotional thinking – mystery, sensitivity and intimacy. It is a lot about story telling. Brands need to tell stories on their websites, on their packaging and so on. Make sure your brand and company has a smell, it has a sound, it has a feel and an intimacy with people. Think about how you can build empathy. It is the small things that count and how consumers feel about our brands that count today.”

“Marketing is dead. The role of marketing has changed now. There is nothing new anymore. If marketers are just hearing about something going on then it is already old in today’s world. The further up in a company you go the stupider you become and the further away from new things. Speed and velocity is everything today. Marketing’s jobs is to create movement and inspire people to join you.

“Everyone wants a conversation. They want inspiration. Inspire people with your website. Don’t just interrupt, but interact. Asking about Return on Investment is the wrong question today. You should be asking about Return on Involvement.” 

He's saying strategy is dead (because we can't control brands anymore) and he's saying traditional advertising as we know it, is dead. I'll add to that, brands and brand loyalty is dead.

Kevin as the worldwide CEO is saying something which, for other Agencies, is heresy. It's like an earthquake with some even saying they could see the smoke rise over the city. Ad Agencies have been ultra critical of the web in an ignorant way. They didn't understand it, bothered to even look at it, and just started rubbishing it in the hope it would all go away and we could all get back to press ads. 

Here's one response, for example, by an Ad Agency to Kevin's piece on The Drum.

"Boy, Kevin is "down with the kids", isn't he? Although I have to say he isn't boring. And he understands PR.

‘Strategy is dead’: entertaining, but bollocks. Most people can't even define the word (I've actually got a training course on this very subject on my website). This week the government was accused of not having a strategy, by somebody who went on to talk about their “lack of clear aims”. It isn't the same thing. Anyway, it's perfectly possible to have a genuinely-strategic approach to selling your products without falling foul of the errors Kevin suggests.

‘Marketing is dead’: entertaining, but bollocks. A useful definition of marketing is' finding out what people want or might want and selling it to them at a profit’. Most of Kevin's speech consists of advising us all how to best do this, by avoiding things that Everybody Doesn't Want and giving Everybody what Everybody Does Want.

So the very least we have to question the Saatchi CEO’s definition of ‘marketing’.

And here, of course, lies the point of the whole thing. What Kevin would doubtless like clients to believe is that the science, rationality, and thinking part of the selling process is all dead. (And the nasty research, too, ooh, especially that.) All you poor clients can do is turn over your money to companies who will provide you with amazing creative ideas , even if bereft of any consistent direction or scale, so as to attempt to distract the mass of novelty- dazed goldfish allegedly inhabiting the modern marketplace. Coincidentally, raw ideas are pretty much the one currency which the advertising agency, as opposed to a raft of other allied service providers, still holds.

Now I'm not even sure if the points he makes apply to the majority of under-30’s. But let's not forget that the majority of consumers in the current EU marketplace, at least, are middle-aged or older. Go find some statistics for the dropout from things like Twitter within these demographics. Ask yourself if they are really in the market for a constant barrage of unrelated, "new" stuff, out of which they will decode your company’s offer and grow to love you. They aren't. They are in the market for good stuff, well presented. You can still do that strategically, using a lot of traditional marketing thinking"

So now instead of thinking, listening, understanding, they're going to have a patronising go at Kevin. Too bad. They've lost already.

The game is officially lost.

Kevin has just made that final too, because now a large traditional player is saying it publicly. With that level of endorsement, it will become self-fulfilling.

Instead of disdain, we had a chance to treat the web with respect to create a whole new opportunity. Ad Agencies were THE perfectly placed people to control this space for brands and they didn't and they don't.

You can see it even in how little attention they give to their websites alone.

So they will wither on sticks.

This might be last chance saloon for some and Kevin might prime them into action, but I don't think so, I think it's too late. Marketing is dead, Advertising is dead. 

Large traditional Ad Agencies? Dead. 

Kevin understands.

But like the peasants in Lamb's essay, we know not how to roast pork, other than to burn the house down.