Beyond Lovemarks: Things/Ideas or People/Relationships?

I was chatting with a friend this morning. She commented that in the Lovemarks book, Kevin Roberts talks a great deal about Love but we get very little sense of who are the people he loves (except, of course, himself), and an awful lot about the things he loves.

We learn, for example, of his love for Head & Shoulders shampoo and Steinlager beer. Rob Paterson made a great comment about Head & Shoulders

H & S is merely a portfolio filler that fits somewhere between P & G’s 9 other shampoos!

There is no love here! Only calculation.

The path of Lovemarks is not the path of love

I’m not for one for rigid rules, but on the whole I prefer to reserve love for living creatures. Love for things sounds more like lust to me, or addiction. My friend this morning said she uses a brand of shampoo that she “quite likes”, and I think that seems a pretty appropriate level of loyalty to feel to a thing.

Indeed, when you get into the love of things, you start down a path that is going to end in treating people as objects. Consider this comment, taken from Fast Company’s somewhat fawning review

General Mills, for example, was looking for a way to give Cheerios a boost a couple of years ago. After applying the lovemarks research, “we realized there was an opportunity to take Cheerios to a higher emotional ground, moving it from being part of the kitchen cupboard to part of the family,” says Mike Burns, co-CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. To ramp up the brand’s love quotient, General Mills replaced the bowl on the package with a heart and retooled its advertising to focus less on the product’s functional benefits (oats are good for you) and more on its emotional ones. “It became very much about motherhood and nurturance — that Cheerios is an expression of love and doing the best for your family,” says Burns. “That’s when the brand took off.” Cheerios is now the top cereal brand in the country, and occupies a position that’s the equivalent of beachfront property on the lovemarks graph.

This story captures the kind of shoddy philosophy we are dealing with here. Saatchis take pride in making Cheerios “part of the family”. This notion is either (a)utterly ludicrous or (b)utterly despicable. Maybe both. (Though of course this is also yet another example of Saatchis showing off how clever they are so let’s take it with a pinch of salt.)

This is also a good instance of how brand gurus get fixated with abstractions and hyperventilate. There is little sense of feet on the ground here, or any responsibility for the notion they are championing. Lovemarks are about the abuse of love, not the practice of it.

Lovemarks lure organisations into silly or unpleasant promises they can’t or shouldn’t live up to. The philosophy espoused here is at best a con, and at worst a pretty crappy conclusion to several thousand years of human civilisation.

Surely to god if the makers of Cheerios really wanted to express love (instead of manipulating how other people express it) they would find a more productive use of their time and talents than this.

I also believe Lovemarks can’t even work financially over time. Simply because the more an organisation spouts mantras that defy the reality of stakeholders lives, the less likely it is that they can host the sort of real conversations that actually make lives productive, engaging and satisfying.

In contrast, effective brands don’t deny reality, they embrace it. They don’t legislate for conversations, they provoke them. Many brands I’ve worked for have been shams, where their people are awash with unspoken frustrations with each other. A few have been vibrant, where people seem to share genuine passion and can tolerate or even enjoy conflict and challenge.

4 thoughts on “Beyond Lovemarks: Things/Ideas or People/Relationships?

  1. Olaf Brugman

    For me, there has not to be a correlation between putting a heart on a package and “filling” up a brand with love or even assign the success of a product to the “new lovely” brand.

    Cheerios probably had that much of a success because the new design of the package was more appealing to the young kids than the old one with the bowl. Kids usually walk around in a store with their parents yelling “I want this and this and this….” deciding upon the fancy package something has. Perhaps the heart on the package did lead to more attraction for kids and that’s it!

    I did this lovemarks test couple of times with my favorite brands and each one didn’t make to a lovemark, even those I’m really addicted to. You could call me an evangelist 😉

    So I think you’re right with saying that love should be something for living individuals. But on the other side I think that it may also be a cultural thing. For us swiss people (we have the image of being freezing cold in personal interaction and in some way it’s probably true) americans often say things like: “Oh, I love it, I love this etc.” Perhaps we should even put this lovemarks thing more in a cultural context… but still then, Kevin Richards is way too extreme in spreading his love for things!


    Hello Johnnie, to use the word of love in the way Lovemarks is implying seems a form of onceptual erosion, by putting ones feeling about a product or a material thing at the same level as human love, which good be defined as ‘doing the good to people in our proximity’. Is the public being asked to ‘trust’ a bottle of ketchup, anti-dandruff shampoo, and give it a prominent place in family life?!?! I cannot relate to that. What Saatchi and Mr. Lovemarks could do is confront himself with some people in his vicinity, who haven’t been as materially lucky as he has been, and listen to their opinion about how much love radiates from the Lovemarks, and how it changes their lives…I am waiting for the next book to read the results…

    Best wishes,


  2. Stuart Henshall

    At the risk of posting far too many comments in one day… it’s fun to hang out here.

    If I get it lovemarks are supposed to be tangible. I hear the comments “I love it”. However mostly we love experiences, and those experiences don’t just involve things (an adrenaline sport may be cool but seldom matches having someone to share it with)rather relationships. My Nokia phone is pretty good, however it really has little to do with my connecting with others.

    I think what we are looking for is Brands emerge from trusting deep relationships. Those relationships are constantly evolving constantly in flux and yet often become familiar with time.

    What happens when marketers are “unfaithful”? What emerges when something breaks? Is a little love lost? What is it about brands that have high levels of repurchase required eg shampoo or deodorant versus a brand for a car or more durable good. What is it about the brands on products that we now wear or carry everyday? The lovemark or is that “territory mark” like the dog… behaves differently in each case.

    I’m no longer sure I feel the same way about BMW’s — something grated in the recent evolution and yet I haven’t owned one since 1984. I paid a huge premium for my Thinkpad (relatively) and it is my second in a row. There was 3.5 years between purchases and a few generations of product.

    However IBM has no real relationship with me what so ever. They may claim they have but they don’t. There are no guarantees that my next PC will be a Thinkpad. It’s an evolving world. By contrast whether WeetBix or Cheerios my cereal choices will probably remain similar. There is just so little that is new and I’m comfortable consuming cereal at breakfast (in stark contrast to my kids who never eat cereal or only eat it dry. Figure that!?)

    Cereal is a wonderful example of how difficult it for those traditional FMCG cos. On the one hand breakfast is changing – on the go, in the car, time constrained etc, and then the category is fragmenting, shrinking, etc. While they are micro managed the companies behind them don’t take stands in the broader sense. There was too much risk for the CEO of General Mills a few years ago to say… we will not accept GMO in our products. The cereal cos could have changed the face of American foods. They chose not to. By contrast retailers in Britain and Europe chose a different course. Those retailers strenthened their brands at the expense of these “weaklings”.

    This may be an example of where “power” overrides and changes brand relationships. It’s no wonder that house brands are winning in many parts of the world. It’s easier to understand and have a relationship.

  3. tonygoodson

    Brandson – Style over Substance

    I’ve been following Johnnie Moore’s recent weblog entries, provoked by LoveMarks. I’m a bit of a sucker and tart for brands, and some people do really love some brands. Apple, Lexus, SouthWest Airlines, Linux. And they say that love is

  4. 800CEOREAD Blog

    Speaking of Johnnie Moore

    He continues to produce posts in his Beyond Lovemarks series. Beyond Lovemarks: SpontaneityBeyond Lovemarks: Things/Ideas or People/Relationships?Beyond Lovemarks: Restoring the power of languageBeyond Lovemarks: Fouroboros engages…


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