Lovemarks_ii Yesterday, I noted that Blue Ocean Strategy does consistently well in the Amazon rankings despite the fact that it is not very good, spectacularly naive, and almost certainly too French. 

Today, I am taking on another title: Lovemarks.  The cruelest thing about this book, for me, is that its worst rank on Amazon is better than my average rank there.   (You may treat everything that follows as sour grapes.)

There is lots to like about Lovemarks. It is written in an accessible prose.  It is generously supplied with images that do make things more lively and interesting.  The expanded edition includes quotes from readers.  So it’s kind of interactive.

The good news: this book is art directed.  The bad news: so’s the prose.

This is breathless, imperative, exclamatory and over capitalized.

Be passionately curious about everything.  (p. 206)

The reader ends up in a state of conceptual excitation that I have not experienced since I spent an afternoon at the Science Center in Toronto.  After a couple of hours of pushing buzzers, spinning wheels, and otherwise "making science," its all I could do to keep from "operating" every shiny object in the parking lot.  The spirit of the exhibit space had colonized consciousness.

So it is with Lovemarks

I began to notice that all my thoughts were followed by exclamation points!  I had to struggle to keep from shouting pronouncements at fellow passengers on the train.  (I am on the train as I write this.)

It may be unfair to examine this kind of thing too carefully.  But unless I am mistaken, this is what we do with "books." 

Consider this. 

Give your brain a rest.  There is nothing wrong with thinking but thinking demands action to make any sense. (190)

My brain is quite rested, thank you, and I am very glad to hear that there is nothing wrong with thinking, but I can’t imagine what you mean.  "Thinking demands action to make any sense."  I am trying to think what you mean, but…  Oh, I see, I must act it to get it.  Dramatize it.  Shout it at fellow passengers, possibly?  No, that didn’t help.  Some seem, well, distressed and I’m none the wiser.   

But this is too easy.  And coming from an obscure author like me, it does sound like sour grapes.  No, if I am to "add value" here is by offering an act of intellectual salvage.  (If only that gave me claim to 10% of the value of the wreck.)  Is there a way of seeing how Lovemarks creates value for the reader?  Is there some way pulling it off the rocks of exclamation, contradiction and hyperventilation?

I think there is.  We may think of Kevin Roberts as a prophet.  Lovemarks is an opportunity to escape the way brands are defined by economics, business schools, the big consulting houses, most senior managers, and the capital markets. 

The "economics model" defines the consumer as an economic man, the purchase as a transaction, motive as the search for utility, marketing as exchange of information, and brands as a badge of trust.

The "lovemarks" model says the consumer is a little dreamy, purchase an act of connection, motive the search for meaning, marketing the exchange of emotion, and the brand, wait for it, a mark of love. 

This is a better view in some ways.  With people like Clayton Christensen insisting on functional branding, we need all the Kevin Roberts we can get.  As long as b-schools and seniors managers treat brands like blunt objects, Lovemarks gets high marks. 

But there is a larger issue here. We have been searching for a way out of the economic model for some time now.

Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences.  The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches. (David Brooks in the New York Times)

This might be called the "Northwest passage" of our time.  (European nations of the early modern period risked lives and fortunes searching for a faster way to the riches of the Orient.) 

Has Roberts found the Northwest passage?  Does Lovemarks give us a way of moving beyond the economic model into something richer, more nuanced, more, er, Asian? 

Well, yes and no, but mostly no.  He has sold a lot of books, and some of them are probably being read by the inhabitants of the economics approach to branding.  And some of these will have had an conversion experience and now regard all trademarks, potentially, as lovemarks.  But many more will have looked at the riot of image and assertion and said, "Oh, lord, let me return to the verities of economics."

Lovemarks is messy, self indulgent, and where it is intelligible, wrongheaded.  Lovemarks, we are told, are created when branders cultivate mystery, sensuality and intimacy.  All these are apt objectives for the marketing team and important objectives for the brand.  But all are astonishingly delicate, perishable and nuanced. 

The bad news: we simply cannot get there from here.  If we want mystery, sensuality and intimacy, it’s going to take something more the exclamation and exhortation.  It’s going to take  something more than advice like:

Get out of the office. Ask the great questions. (206) Call three consumers.  Every day.  (144)  Give your brain a rest.  Embrace emotion.  Kick the information addiction.  (190) 

If we want to win mystery, sensuality and intimacy for the brand, it’s going to take a system, dry, thoughtful, grounded, nuanced, and powerful.  It’s going to have to be something that the people at McKinsey (or any HBS grad) can look at without sneering.  (We can just imagine how they received, "Kick the information addiction.") 

The corporation has always known the brand is something more than an economic proposition.  And finding that "something more" was the ad agency’s job.   The corporation used the agency to make imagination, creativity and better branding available, without having to endure it inhouse, or allowing it to interfere with the economics model.  But, in the last decade or so, branding (and the creativity and innovation it represents) has become too important to be left to the agency alone.  That’s why, not incidentally, the God-like A.G. Lafley consented to write the introduction to this book.  Creativity, once the special preserve of the agency, was now everyone’s concern.

What Roberts spotted is that the madness of the agency must now migrate into the larger corporate world.  Banging insight, Mr. Roberts.  But your book is enough to make one weep.  These ideas are too important to be trusted to the exclamatory mode.  There is a Northwest passage out there somewhere.  But we are not never going to find it this way.  We are going to need the help of better navigators.

Here’s the thing that really rankles.  Lovemarks is misnamed.  It should have been called Lovemark.  For it is in fact a lavish, four colour, print ad for Saatchi and Saatchi.  I can’t believe the other agencies are letting him get away with this.  I know the CEO of Arnold has a book out.  How about the other agencies?  Time for other CEOs to put pen to paper.  And when they do, they should call me.


McCracken, Grant.  2006.  Economic Man: Absent without leave in the pages on the NYT.  This  Blog… here.  (for the quote from Brooks)

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  And stop calling me stupid.  This Blog … here.  (for a criticism of the Christensen "function" model of branding)

Roberts, Kevin.  2005.  Lovemarks: the future beyond brands.  2nd edition.  New York: powerHouse. 

11 thoughts on “Lovemark

  1. jens

    Go, grant, go!

    looks like a nice little series that was long overdue.

    (… maybe also that ‘s exactly the stuff that bestsellers are made of …
    -but, ohh my godd, that is not your intention, is it???)

  2. Daniel Rosenblatt


    “Get out of the office. Ask the great questions. (206) Call three consumers. Every day. (144) Give your brain a rest. Embrace emotion. Kick the information addiction. (190)”

    I don’t know if this will make you feel any better (and indeed it probably SHOULDN’T make you feel better), but: The excerpts you quote from _Lovemarks_ make me thing of a study I once saw reported in the NY Times. Apparently some medical researchers had a series of essay written by young nuns who were about to enter a convent. They analyzed the essays to see if they could find anything that would let them predict who would later develop Alzheimer’s Disease (which they could do because they had the later medical records of all the nuns). It turned out that the writing of those who would develop Alzheimer’s was characterized by extremely simple, straightforward, declarative sentences with nary a relative clause in sight. Not that your sour grapes towards the author of _Lovemarks_ goes that far of course.

  3. Anonymous

    Jens, I think I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am incapable of writing a best seller. This is a way of giving Roberts and the Blue Ocean authors their props. Say what we will, writing a best seller is really, really hard, and anyone who does it has my admiration. Thanks, Grant

    Tom, thank you, sir. Best, Grant

    Daniel, Thank. you. very. much. Grant
    p.s., no, I really mean it, and I am, truth be told, not, by any stretch of the imagination, just saying this, if you see what I mean, and I am sure you do, don’t you?

  4. Niti Bhan

    What is frightening to me, however, is the way statements like “Give your brain a rest” seem to imply the death of reason. “Feel the strategy” rather than apply logic and rationale. Thank *you* Grant.

  5. Grant

    Tomas, thank you, sir! Best, Grant

    Niti, yeah, it’s all very Rousseau-ian, isn’t it? Thanks! Grant

  6. Mary Schmidt

    I’m not a best-selling author – but I do consider myself an accomplished reader, and I’ve be thinking all my life. So, after reading this, I’m going to have to check out Lovemarks (good thing I’ve got a great local library system.)

    This sort of simplistic exclamation-laden writing is just the thing that totally turns off many business people. They see the fluff and don’t bother to look for the NW Passage. But, here’s the upside – the very fact that: a. it’s printed; b. it’s popular. will get some people to read it. And, maybe, must maybe it will get them to look at things differently (Get out of the office, etc.) Ending the “information addiction?” Well, I’d rather call it avoiding analysis paralysis.

    Finally, all this reminds me of something Picasso said about modern art (I’m paraphrasing here). You have to start with something before you can get to the abstract.

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  8. Kempton

    Hi Grant,

    I came across a mention of your Lovemarks review via the Brandtarot blog. To keep a long comment short, I disagree with many of your critical comments of Lovemarks.

    Your references to pg 144, 190, and 206 were quite misleading. Reading those quotes, one may have the impression that it is the writing style of the book. Far from it, all these references are from the chapter ending notes call “Five things to do tomorrow.” and they are even printed as photos of Post-It notes. Well, messages on Post-It notes don’t usually call for lengthy detailed analysis in my view.

    Another critique you have on the book is that it doesn’t quite give you a system to show you how to do it.
    “If we want to win mystery, sensuality and intimacy for the brand, it’s going to take a system, dry, thoughtful, grounded, nuanced, and powerful.  It’s going to have to be something that the people at McKinsey (or any HBS grad) can look at without sneering.”

    Well, as Kevin Roberts said in an online radio interview (a link to it is available in my blog, simply search for — Kevin Roberts radio), well he wants people to hire Saatchi & Saatchi to do the job. This is a great, entertaining, and insightful book. But lets not kid ourselves, it is also a big ad for Kevin’s ideas and Saatchi and Saatchi itself. I think it is a fair game. And they got the JC Penney contract from the book. Cool.

    By the way, since then, Roberts has published “Lovemarks Effect” which goes into details of explaining the “how” as enough people complained. (smile)


    Disclosure: I am a big fan of Kevin Roberts (and I got the two books free for review) but then I am not spineless enough yet to defend Kevin blindly. (smile)

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