Will The Real Kevin Roberts Please Stand Up

I have not read the book Lovemarks, which may be the reason I simply do not understand the frustration certain bloggers feel in regards to its message. Their main gripe seems to be that it’s just more old-fashioned branding mumbo jumbo dressed up in a cute new outfit. Maybe it is. Until I read it, I can’t say.
Here’s what I can say. Kevin Roberts is no dummy. He’s leads a worldwide organization of 7000 idea-generating people in 82 countries. Maybe that’s not impressive enough for some contrary individuals concerned with their own lot in life. I don’t mind saying I find it impressive. But let’s examine some of Kevin’s thinking up close, for a better read.
Kevin Roberts talking with Tom Peters: “Two-thirds of people over the age of 70 live alone; they’re going to die alone. The average length of a marriage in the U.S. is seven years. One in two kids in urban America is born out of wedlock. You’re seeing people not having kids.
So what are you seeing? You’re seeing people hungry for relationships, hungry for intimacy. They’ve lost trust in all our institutions. Does anybody trust the Church anymore? You gotta be kidding me, right? Does anybody trust government? You sure as hell don’t trust the company you work for, right? Because that’s going to be Enron, or they’re going to lay you off anyway next week and outsource you, etc., etc. So there’s no trust. You can’t trust the family unit because you probably haven’t seen your father. People are looking for relationships, they’re looking for intimacy, they’re looking for bonding. They’re not interested in transactions.
They’re frightened shitless by the fact that we’re at war, by terrorism and brutality, and who knows what’s going to happen next. They are looking for a relationship, whether that’s with an author, an idea, a brand, a product. If you don’t give them that, you’re certainly never going to be able to charge a premium. You’ve got to remember, brands are only invented to charge a premium. That was the purpose of a brand; it didn’t have any other. ‘Recognize me, desire me, have faith in me, trust me, pay more for me.'”
Like I said, this guy has chops. And if the above thinking is any indication of what’s in his book, I look forward to a good read.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Carl LaFong says:

    I certainly don’t question Mr. Roberts’ credentials or accomplishments. But the notion of people having “relationships” with brands seems unutterably depressing. I mean, I realize that the whole purpose of what we do is to establish a preference in people’s minds for one brand over another. But a “relationship?” You have a relationship with your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends – not a sneaker or a soft drink or a fast food chain. The world is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, chaos and lunacy reign – and I’m supposed to find comfort and solace in my “relationship” with Altoids or Coke? This sounds like materalism run amok.

  2. Well put, Carl. I agree we need to examine this notion of relationships with brands. At the same time, I know I have an affinity, or love, for certain brands.
    I think one of the main things hanging Mr. Roberts up is his word choice. His use of “love” and “relationships” bothers us for the reasons you stated.

  3. Hi dburn, good questions and interesting quotes. I would welcome a real debate on Lovemarks and appreciate the points you make.
    I don’t believe Kevin’s status or the size of his company is relevant, one way or another, to an assessment of the quality of his philosophy. What I think is relevant is to examine how it is applied in practice. What is the behaviour that goes with the passion?
    For example, let’s consider this description of how Saatchi’s implement their philosophy in the real world. This is taken from the Fast Company report on Lovemarks:
    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.
    Manipulating the image of a breakfast cereal will not address the social issues Roberts talks about. In fact, this kind of thing is surely part of the problem, not part of the solution. Taking people’s deep need for emotional connection and replacing it with sugared cereal is – for me – either ridiculous or odious.

  4. Carl LaFong says:

    Actually, in the interests of full disclosure, while I am still against the notion of having “relationships” with products, I did once have a one-night stand with an Air Jordan athletic shoe. Trust me, you don’t want to know the details.

  5. Another thought. You quote KR saying
    They are looking for a relationship, whether that’s with an author, an idea, a brand, a product. If you don’t give them that, you’re certainly never going to be able to charge a premium. You’ve got to remember, brands are only invented to charge a premium. That was the purpose of a brand; it didn’t have any other. ‘Recognize me, desire me, have faith in me, trust me, pay more for me.'”
    I’m a bit confused whether Roberts is now in favour of brands, since he also says brands are dead and being replaced by Lovemarks.
    But actually, isn’t Alcoholics Anonymous a kind of “brand” ? Or Oxfam ? Or Christian Aid? I don’t think they were invented to “create a premium” I think you’ll find that most of the Lovemarks in the book are for-profits… and this is another way in which Roberts is perhaps missing something…

  6. We deal with Oxfam and such as brands. Just like with deal AdPulp and David Burn and Johnnie Moore as brands. But are we? Tom Peters said we were, so we were. I know I’m not “a packaged good” in any real sense even though I have to package myself to work. A writer, a blogger, a consultant,a journalist, a bullshitter.
    Lovemarks surely are the offspring of brands. I have yet to read the book, but that’s what they sound like from here.

  7. Let’s talk cereal with Johnnie Moore. Hi Johnnie Moore, by the way.
    Ridiculous or odious? Odious to me is Imperialist persecution–the new Crusades. So it must be ridiculous to connect emotionally with Cheerios or any brand in its place.
    Why does it matter so much if the sell is a product feature like “oats are good for you” or an emotional sell like “you’re a good mom, when you serve Cheerios?” It’s not a lie. A mom might serve something less, or nothing at all.
    Don’t get me wrong, I encourage a healthy debate on the morality of advertising and its varied techniques and agendas. I love that debate. It’s something I think about all the time. I say, “Why should I give my ideas to some stupid corporation?” The answer is because corporations are made of people, some good and some bad, just like life.

    1. Live in fear. Yes. It’ll keep you motivated. Especially during those crunch time, weekend ball-breaker, gung-ho, go-team, rah-rah-rah sessions.
    2. Be an asshole. Business is all about screwing people over; being an asshole makes it easier.
    3. Destroy your family life. Screw ’em. All they do is whine, anyway.
    4. Preen. Buy stuff you can’t afford. Somehow you hope that new Armani blazer will make you feel less of an errand boy at the office.
    5. Invent. Like y’know, new paradigms and buzzwords and blue-sky thinking. Really useful stuff. Exactly.
    6. Rebrand yourself as a Lovemark. Woo-hoo!

  9. Sweet. Thanks to Hugh, I can now forgo the actual reading of Roberts’ book.
    Books are so 20th century. How about a PDF? Like Godin gives.

  10. Lovemarks: Saatchi finally speaks up… kinda

    Okay, so there’s this big debate in the blogosphere about Kevin Roberts’ whole lovemarks thing. I haven’t read the book yet, but I recently obtained a copy of it from a former Saatchi employee. Since the bloggers are calling Roberts out – or any Saatch…

  11. I don’t think Love Marks offers anything new at all.
    If you scratch under the surface of Love Marks you find the advertising industry’s infrastructure as it’s been for the last fifty years. That’s Big Agencies using Big Media to shouting about Big Corporates to the rest of the world.
    The Clue Train has a different set of foundations. Namely, a networked world where every voice is equal and shouting loudly doesn’t mean anyone will listen. In fact, it just makes people run away or block you out.
    Kevin Roberts is welcome to keep his Love Marks. I’m just not interested.

  12. In the spirit of open source discourse, I’ve invited Mr. Kevin Roberts himself (via his web site interface) to tell us why we’re wrong to be so concerned with his book and his ideas therein.
    That was Wednesday, so internet time’s a wastin’. I know, the gentleman’s probably in a first class sleeper over the North Atlantic about now. But they have wi-fi on those things, I do believe. Come Kevin…speak.

  13. Johnnie Moore has featured “my challenge” to bloggers who do not care for the idea of Lovemarks, nor the book itself. This, is addition to making comments here on Adpulp. For the attention, we are grateful to the kind sir.

  14. More Lovemark-Cluetrain Deathmatch Action

    From Jack Chen:Okay, so there’s this big debate in the blogosphere about Kevin Roberts’ whole lovemarks thing. I haven’t read the book yet, but I recently obtained a copy of it from a former Saatchi employee. Since the bloggers…

  15. Hi David, we must stop meeting like this, people will talk. I just commented on your comment in my blog and now catching up with you in yours.
    I do see a difference between a claim that “oats are good for you” and equating Cheerios with motherhood. I am repelled by the idea, honestly. I’m not sure if it’s a lie exactly, I think it’s a bit too crazy for that. But I hear that you feel differently.
    I haven’t researched this, but I wonder if Saatchi’s went to any lengths to investigate how well-qualified Cheerios is in particular to get the motherhood accolade? Do they believe that this particular mix of ingredients is specially qualified as a cereral, the delivery of which shows true concern for the well-being of the child?
    And I wonder what Kevin would suggest all the hundreds of other cereals now do? Close down? Or perhaps shoot for the “fatherhood” “first-cousin-once-removed” “kindly old man down the street” role? I don’t know how we’d ever cope with all the Love!
    I for one would agree that we can have some kind of relationship and some kind of emotional connection with brands. But not to the point where a sugared oats are anthropomorphised as family.
    I might repeat (laboriously) that there is nothing NEW about this practice of leveraging emtional qualities to flog stuff. But Cheerios is highlighted in press features on Lovemarks as an examplar of Lovemarking. But this is precisely what mere “branding” firms have been peddling for years now.
    How does Lovemarks live up to its promise of “The future beyond brands”? David, you suggest the “offspring of brands” which I think is a bit kind itself but nearer the truth than “beyond”.
    So we don’t seem to agree about some things AND big kudos to you for keeping up the discussion and stopping it being a Cluetrain echo chamber. And for inviting Kevin along, ditto.

  16. Open Letter to the Lunatic Fringe of Marketing

    The longer I’m in the blogosphere, the more I feel that the more-than-a-dozen-readers bloggers to date are often in the innovator camp of the innovation adoption curve (it goes innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards from