Is Lovemarks brilliant?

Tom Peters thinks that Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks is brilliant.

Well Roberts is a brilliant self-publicist. I hope that his genius for PR may one day find a cause that really merits the amount of airtime he seems able to command. But Lovemarks surely isn’t that cause.

I’ll give Roberts credit for stating so explicitly how he sees the world so that it can be tested and challenged. I think he does a good job – inadvertently – of showing us just how far admen are out of touch with the times.

Down here in New Zealand I came across an interview with Roberts in The Listener magazine. All credit to interviewer Greg Dixon for giving Kevin the rope to hang himself with.

Q: Is New Zealand a lovemark?

A: No. It was, but now probably isn’t, because it has lost respect globally

I assume that Kevin is speaking ex cathedra here as there is no reference to his much-touted research to justify this assertion. But let’s not interrupt his Holiness so impudently. He continues

We’ve lost a lot of respect… we’ve grown up and become a little like a teenager: “We’re very rebellious, so we’re not going to join you in this, we’re going to do this and that.”

Nice specific stuff there then.

Roberts identifies himself as a New Zealander. I can only say that I find this a patronising view of New Zealand that I suspect most of its citizens might resent.

The interviewer goes on

Dixon: What’s your definition of love exactly?

Roberts: In a marketing sense, it’s to create loyalty beyond reason

It’s quite telling, that phrase “in a marketing sense”. I think what it means is, well here’s some shallow stuff which is all to do with selling you things.

In case we don’t follow, our Kev obliges with a specific example of what “in a marketing sense” he thinks love is

I walked past an Adidas concept store. I love Adidas. I didn’t need anything. $US860 later I walked out of that store.

Well, in a marketing sense I’d call that lust or greed. Or as the interviewer puts it, a little more politely

But isn’t that consumerism beyond reason because your buying stuff you don’t need?

Yep, that’s about the size of it.

But wait, there’s more!

Dixon: One definition of consumerism is that it amounts to people working in jobs they hate to buy stuff they don’t need to impress people they don’t like

Roberts: Every person in the world is a consumer, six billion people. Are you criticising six billion people here?

Er no Kevin, I think he’s criticising you. And little wonder when we read the next exchange:

Dixon: Consumerism means that New Zealand household debt is at record levels, however.

Roberts: I lke that.

Dixon: But people are borrowing money they don’t have, money they have to pay back

Roberts: The next generation will. Great. Terrific

This is what Kevin’s love boils down to: let’s consume our way out of problems, and let’s let the next generation pay for it.

Some of us might question the sustainability of such a view, and all Roberts can muster by way of counterargument is more self-importance

I’m the professor of sustainable enterprise at Limerick and Waikato universities

which of course proves nothing, except the size of his ego.

Indeed, it seems that Roberts needs to regularly remind us of his own importance

I’m the head of a very powerful company, so I have the opportunity to sit down with CEOs

– but then you wonder, why does he have to tell us this?

And if you disagree with Kevin, well that’s because you are just the wrong kind of person…

If you’re going to rely on government in any one country to move the world forward…then you’re a dreamer

Cynics can knock…

The consumer is boss… if you think that’s bad, go be a communist

Question the sustainability of his philosophy and instead of a reasoned economic argument we get I’m-a-professor-of-sustainability-at-Limerick-and-you’re-a-dreamer/teenager/communist.

Kevin fleetingly presents himself as the voice of the consumer, warning those wicked branding people not to take us for granted. But this is just a cover; we can see from his examples that Roberts is stuck in a twentieth-century adman’s world where emotions are just there to exploited to shift product.

But if you worry for the poor old consumer, what about Kev’s clients?

Roberts gives the game away here too.

Clients cannot communicate ideas. That’s why we exist – because we’re creative, imaginative, intuitive and inspirational.

So here is the sting in the tail for Procter and Gamble, whose products Kevin pitches slavishly in his book, preposterously presenting Tide as a Lovemark and asserting his undying love for Head & Shoulders. Oh he may pimp your products P&G, but deep down he thinks you can’t communicate and need to come to him for imagination, intuition and inspiration.

Oh, and I can’t let this pass unremarked:

Ideas are like arseholes, everyone’s got one. But what advertising agencies do is share those ideas.

I see, all these years Saatchi and Saatchi have been dressing mutton up as lamb, all they wanted to do was share their ideas. Sure.

And as for this:

We (admen) are the people who create jobs through building demand

Words fail me.

I see that some people seem inspired by Lovemarks. Well, there are many brands that people find attractive on the surface. But with Lovemarks, the surface may be all there is.


8 thoughts on “Is Lovemarks brilliant?

  1. Johnnie Moore

    This is the worst interview by Roberts I’ve seen in some time.

    I’ve been giving more thought the shifts occuring in marketing – not so much Lovemarks per se – and it has something to do with your statement:


    I’ll try to sum up although it’s going to be a hefty series in its own right. There are predominantly three meme-containers, also called worldviews, in today’s industrialized nations. For a minute we can focus on just two.

    What we see with Roberts is that he comes from the achievement-oriented worldview which is the basis of most of Corporate America and other multinationals. The other worldview that’s relevant in this discussion is a community-oriented one. (And I’m primarly interested in a trifling minority worldview – the integrative one.)

    Roberts is trying to talk the language of achievement to the folks entrenched in that meme-container and stretch their thinking a little. And he must talk in memes they relate to. However I think he is probably still waffling a bit in his own personal achievement-community transition. In the achievement world, stating titles, credentitials matter for credibility. In the achievement world, those of a community-oriented mindset are definitely perceived as dreamer-communist-utopians.

    The fact is the blogosphere’s ethos are the community-orientation worldview and if it remains open-ended it will also ride the crest of the wave of whatever emerges next.

    Thus Roberts is not speaking to us at all – we’ve clearly moved beyond the meme-container of the multinationals altogether into the next one; albeit if we’re not careful into an equally closed meme-container.


    Evelyn thanks for a simply brilliant comment. This is one of the reasons I love blogging – the chance to air my thoughts and then get this sort of intelligent, thought-provoking response.

    Yes, I think I react against the achievement-mindset, although of course I have my own dollop of it in myself. I love the way you work to find an intergrative position. Great stuff.

  2. Evelyn Rodriguez

    The worldviews are more nested hierarchies in a sense; thus a communitarian worldview has a dollop of the achievement orientation as you noted. But vice versa is not the case as the community-oriented worldview is outside the range of an achievement-oriented person’s ability to “relate” to it. I think Roberts may be on the cusp of the achievement-community shift as an individual. Again, his words do sound cutting edge but credible to one that is entrenched in an achievement worldview. Sometimes communitarian words just sound outright ridiculous in the achievement world, i.e. the majority of corporations.

    I try to refrain from using this model as another way to judge or evaluate people – these are all adaptive “relatedness” intelligences well within all our capabilities – that is, if we allow ourselves to remain open-ended.

  3. Crossroads Dispatches

    Latest Branding Flogging

    The future of branding. I liked Seth’s summary of the branding-is-dead-is-not-is-too debate: basically, brands are not dead, but branding as an activity isn’t registering a pulse.I’m happy to say that you shouldn’t grow up to be someone who does branding.

  4. Jennifer Rice

    I have to second Johnnie on this one. It’s this kind of overconsumption mentality that has made the US a laughingstock in the global community. In his interviews, Roberts reveals himself as a stereotypical arrogant American, and traditional ad-man to boot. Evelyn, I agree that it’s difficult to communicate “community” to an achievement-oriented businessman, but Kevin’s comments are (to me) not even achievement oriented. They’re advertising-speak from, say, 20 years ago. Most people I know (including achievement-oriented ones)are repelled by the idea that we Americans know what’s best for the rest of the world and that we should sell them a bunch of crap they don’t need, dress them in Levi’s and Nike’s and help them exchange their native food for artery-clogging McDonald’s hamburgers. It’s a horrifying thought. Kevin is a missionary for ‘capitalism run amok’… and I’m a big proponent of capitalism, but we’ve gone way too far. The US has the highest rates of depression, murder,obesity, suicide, rape, etc etc etc… and we want to export “our way” to the rest of the world? I suggest we need to start opening our minds and learning from the rest of the world instead.

  5. jbr

    “Most people I know (including achievement-oriented ones) are repelled by the idea that we Americans know what’s best for the rest of the world and that we should…”

    I’m oversimplifying all this…perhaps then many of the people you know do not have an achievement-oriented worldview, but the integrative one or transitioning to it (i.e. anyone repelled by the thought of foisting their worldview as “best” onto another). Both communitarian and achievement-oriented will believe they know better how everyone else should behave and believe and it’s all a matter of persuading the rest of the world over to their viewpoint.

    The way this model works is it is both a continuum and a nested hierarchy. So, continuum: worldviews I haven’t touched on yet above integrative -> integrative -> communitarian -> achievement -> much more I’m ignoring right now -> all the way down to raw survival worldview.

    I try to explain these as adaptive intelligences IN people, more than types OF people. And I’d say it is more an “intelligence” around capacity to perceive and relate to another’s perspective as well. So integrative INCLUDES capacity to understand, relate to, value and draw forth their own achievement perspective; the other way around is not necessarily true.

    (Stereotypical arrogant American and typical ad-man: you couldn’t have described the negative side to the achievement orientation better. Perhaps I should come up with a better name than achievement – but it’s the post-Enlightenment but pre-Woodstock 1960s worldview.)


    Jennifer, your paragraph is an outstanding book idea…researching and proving how rampant consumption – and the forces that drive consumption – have driven the US to it’s current state. I suspect comparisons to other great societies may present parallels that could be hard to ignore. Maybe, this book already exists, but it would certainly be worth considering.

  6. BadMarketing

    Why Lovemarks Offends Us

    There’s a lot of hate out there for Lovemarks, the “beyond branding” marketing schtick. The thing is, these brand relationships weren’t developed overnight, they weren’t manufactured by an ad agency, and it’s insulting to the brands we do love and res…

  7. Jack Yan

    Makes my piece on his book seem very balanced, and even nice. But this Listener interview is revealing, and doesn’t shine well on the book at all. Thank you for excerpting it, John.


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