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."
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.