Category Archives: Saatchi & Saatchi

Latvians show Greece how to smile in the face of austerity – Its all just National Branding

As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful.  You don’t believe me?  Well try this.

So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now.  Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks.  What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected.  So, what’s the trick?

There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness.  They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all.  Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate.  While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task.  Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast.  The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.

The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride.  The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any.  If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight.  Greeks are largely in it for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney.  From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.

National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years).  Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.

In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either.  Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too.  In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.

A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction.  Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history.  ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months.  A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread.  I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.

So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours.  You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.


Saatchi & Saatchi London and T-Mobile. A big idea worth sharing

Its not just because I’m one of the old Saatchi alumni and I’m sure I am not alone in this, but I get a kick everytime I see this campaign.  In fact, although I have worked for most of the big mobile operators over the years T-mobile hasn’t been one of them, so why am I giving it space here?

The answer is simple.  Its a great example of something that I have been banging on about for years – “The big idea”.  In the old Saatchi days, this is what we did – Silk Cut, British Airways, Intercity, there’s a long list of big ideas that have originated in Saatchi.  For years now though I’ve felt that (and Kevin Roberts will hate me for this) the old place had struggled to get its head as far above its competitors as we used to, but looking at what has been coming out of Charlotte Street recently, I have to say, things are looking good.

Keep it up folks!

In successful companies employees dance on tables

You don’t need me to tell you, its tough out there.  Many businesses that I come across are struggling to adjust to the new rules of business and a few are still realising that many of the old ways of running a business simply don’t work anymore, but, old habits die hard.

I’m seeing a disappointing return to purely tactical focus and its hard to persuade the companies heading in this direction and whose priority is to pay this month’s wage bill, that  it’s a dead-end street.  A still more worrying trend I am witnessing though is towards whip-cracking.  Much as I sympathise with the desperation of managers who simply don’t understand why the approaches they have used successfully for years to build or run a business don’t work in the era of new model marketing, flogging your staff is the desperate last twitch of management that has already failed.  High-pressure tactics like this are doomed to failure in both the long and the short-term.

I overheard a conversation last week where a middle manager was bemoaning the loss of the “good old days”.  “I remember …” he said “… the days when, if I was out of the office for a day, I’d return to find my stuff all pushed to one end of my desk because someone had been dancing on it!”.  Extreme perhaps, but there are offices throughout England where the atmosphere is so dour and depressing that its hard to imagine that this kind of thing once happened in successful businesses.

My mind goes back to a quote by Tom Peters in one of his early presentation where he begged business leaders to ask themselves if there was a spring in their employees’ step as they walked across the parking lot from their car to the office each morning, saying “If there isn’t, it’s your fault!”.  His overarching point being that unless employees are happy and enthusiastic about their work, your business will fail.

How many organisations, who today are battling to put together a business strategy that works under the new rules, are paying attention to the absolutely vital element of employee engagement?  Without the backing and buy-in of employees, no business will stand a chance of delivering its brand promise, and when you fail at that you’ve just failed!

For those tempted to respond with “… but we never did any of this stuff before”, I’ll underline what I have said earlier and many times before – If you got away with this omission in the past, it was only because the competition (despite what you may have thought then) wasn’t that tough.  Now its “game on” and there’s no room for slack.  No business can afford this level of inefficiency and, believe me, trying to deliver a promise without having first secured the committment of your employees is inefficient in the extreme.

If you think its par for the course for managers to be hated by employees, forget it!  If you confuse respect for you as a manager with distant or non-existing relationships with your staff you need to take a reality check.  Successful businesses have always had figureheads who employees are happy to stand behind – Richard Branson, Bill Muirhead, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Steve Jobs … I could make a long list, but you get the idea.  Developing and leveraging relationships like these are all part of the internal marketing task.  Don’t side-step the issue.  These internal “brandships” are the key to the “brandships” you have with customers and that’s what drives your business.  When you need all the help you can get to keep afloat, the last thing you should do is abandon your internal relationship-building, so double-check your marketing strategy to ensure you are doing all you can to get your employees dancing on the tables!

Blue may be the new green, but does it suit your business?

So, the debate is pretty well done and dusted – the Green movement is dead. A victim of the same monarchical culture that has buried so many other great ideas and business over the years.  Adam Werbach pointed all this out to us in his speech “Eulogy for the Green Movement” at the Commonwealth Institute in San Francisco way back in 2004.  The mistake he made then was not to offer an alternative and as a result he was vilified by old Greenies, the press and a bunch of other people with no imagination or brains to work it out for themselves.  As he said, people don’t like being called “dead”!  So, he returned to the same venue in 2009 with the missing pieces, which he has called “The Birth of Blue“. Yes, without a doubt, Blue is the new Green, so start adapting your wardrobe.

In fact, Blue isn’t anything new.  Just as the demise of Green followed the familiar path beaten by Communism, a few religions and other movements that relied on compliance under threat rather than a voluntary embrace.  Adam isn’t alone in what has done, but where he scores the bonus is in introducing an imaginative and practical solution, in this case, by adapting a proven approach to a different problem.  I say proven with the certainly of first-hand knowledge, because along with all the other initiatives, cultures and institutions that have successfully adopted this kind of strategy, I have been following it for years with my programme of brand transformation that I call Brand Discovery.

History couldn’t possibly give us more conclusive proof that a culture based on strict rules will fail, yet its not surprising that governments worldwide have adopted a heavy-handed approach to getting us all in line behind the sustainability thing.  When you throw old ladies in jail for putting paper in her rubbish, or stick tracking devices and chips in wheely-bins you really can’t expect anything, but resistance from folks.  The same applies to any community, brand or organisation.  If you make a community welcoming, comfortable and rewarding enough people will want to be a part of it.  Conversely, if you want to drive people away from a place you make it threatening and unpleasant.  Maybe if we gave less thought to prisoner’s rights and conditions incarceration might represent more of a disincentive to criminals?  However, I digress.

Green failed because it didn’t welcome people to its community and brands fail for the same reason.  What constitutes “welcoming” is another discussion and will vary from one brand or community to another, but what I want to do now is focus on the process involved. Its simple really.  You firstly need to lay out all the facts and associated issues in a clear and unbiased way (something that governments just don’t seem capable of).  You then fuel debate and discussion and LISTEN (something that few organisations of any kind find natural). People will work out their own relationships with the problem or issue at hand and if you really are listening, you’ll discover that they are writing your strategy for you.

Sustainability, affects us all.  It influences communication, travel, jobs, in fact pretty well everything in everybody’s life.  As our schoolkids are learing (and these future customers are way ahead of us on this see Graeme Codrington’s Hanna’s Rules) nobody can avoid it, so its really just a matter of helping people understand how it affects them individually.  Then you can start to offer them suggestions of things that they can do to help, if not themselves, their kids, avoid a future that’s far less inviting than that which we have today.

Brand Discovery encourages brand stakeholders to nominate things that they can each do to ensure that they are contributing to a bigger shared objective – the delivery of a brand promise.  Blue takes the same approach by asking people to nominate a DOT – Do One Thing – that will bring them closer to living a sustainable life.  What Blue also realises is that entire national populations are too large to work with successfully, so it relies on dividing nations into smaller work-groups.  They, cleverly chose businesses … large ones.  Their first candidate was Wal-mart, a community of almost two-million employees, not to mention partners and suppliers (I’ve visited countries with smaller populations!) where the approach has proven to be a great success.  More including Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in the UK are following their lead.

The issue isn’t going to disappear by itself and the emerging generations of customers and consumers place sustainable living far higher on their list of priorities than we or our forbears have so its not difficult to see the attraction for a corporation of engaging in sustainability.  In fact, businesses that don’t embrace the cause are going to suffer big-time in the future.

However, if you think it’s just a case of flying a sustainability flag outside your corporate HQ you are wrong.  Apart from their understanding of the importance of sustainability, emerging consumers have inherited a realisation from our generation and they just mistrust pretty well anything that the corporate world tells them, so you are seriously going to have to walk the talk.  What we are talking about here represents a significant change for most organisations.  You are going to need a strategy and there are few organisations around with the perspective and in-house resources to tackle this alone, but before you even find your partner to help you with this you need to understand that blue really is your colour and be ready to trust in your chosen Gok Wan.

In the coming months I will be working on this with my clients, testing out, ideas, introducing initiatives and all the time doing all I can to live sustainably.  Next week I’m off to Marketing Week Live in London and, as I try always to do, I’ll be minimising my carbon footprint by travelling by train.  I’ll be tweeting as I go and hopefully producing a bit of audio on or from the show.  Among the questions I’ll be asking of the people I meet there will be how their organisations are rising to this challenge.  So follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet and make your own contribution.

Now there’s a chance we’ll see some real advertising.

The initial poster from Saatchi & Saatchi for Labour (top) and the Conservative response by M&C Saatchi

I was reading a piece somewhere on the web a week or so ago that asked  why we Brits seem to have an edge the US when it comes to creativity in advertising.  There were a number of suggestions , legislation, cultural mix and training among them, but to my recollection the most popular seemed to be the Brits’ ironic sense of humor, which produces advertising that even if it is explained to them a lot of Americans don’t understand.

When, back in the eighties, I was at the old Saatchi & Saatchi there was a buzz about our Charlotte Street HQ that I have never felt before or since in any agency anywhere in the world.  Sadly for today’s Saatchi & Saatchi the magic left the building, with Maurice, Charles, Bill Muirhead and the rest of the old team and unfortunately for everyone it never seemed to be replicated in their subsequent M&C Saatchi incarnation … until now.

I was disappointed to say the least, both when Saatchi & Saatchi teamed up with Labour and when David Cameron’s team switched agency from the M&C Saatchi to Euro RSCG.  I have nothing in particular against Euro, although their contribution in this case has been pretty dire, but the culture upon which the brothers built the original Saatchi & Saatchi and the people involved, including Tim Bell, made it the perfect environment for political advertising and no agency has more ground-breaking case studies as evidence of this.

I couldn’t possibly list all the on-the-ball, witty, to-the-point campaigns that emerged from Charlotte Street in the Saatchi & Saatchi heyday to capture the hearts and minds of the British consumer, not to mention people in markets around the world.  Saatchi brought fun and daring to the most austere sectors, with famous retail campaigns like ‘How do Do-It-All do it?’ for a DIY chain and they earned a reputation for smart repost, even in the previously utilitarian lawnmower market with “A lot less bover than a hover” for Qualcast in response to Flymo’s ‘Don’t  slow mow, Flymo’.

The Tories aren’t the first clients to have brought the Boys off the subs bench and scored an immediate goal, in this case with an advertising campaign that has made Euro’s attempt look like the wallpaper it was.  I’m sure somebody will get around to calling it ‘negative advertising’ but when your competitor has a Achiles heel you’d be a fool not to turn it to your advantage.  In this case M&C appear to have enough material to keep them going and its not in their DNA to let the opportunity pass by.  However, its their mastery of the counterpunch that delivered the stroke of true magic, turning Labour’s (Saatchi & Saatchi) ‘Ashes to Ashes spoof poster campaign back on them with the deftest touch, proving beyond a doubt that the old masters haven’t lost it. It’s a real pity that without knowing the background to this campaign – the characters and storyline of the TV series that it is based on – and without the English sense of humour that I was talking about a moment ago, the beauty of this piece will be lost on people beyond British shores.

One of a series of M&C Saatchi Tory posters that mark their return to the Conservative cause.

I remember how we felt in Charlotte Street when we pulled a coup like this.  It was electric and I bet its the same now at M&C.  The bad news from Labour’s viewpoint is that coups like this always fueled bigger and better ideas that sent the competition running for their dug-outs.  The British election has become a Saatchi & Saatchi versus M&C Saatchi head-to-head with both sides trying to prove that the old fire resides with them.  If nothing else comes of this event we could see  some great advertising!

Are marketing services failing clients?

I don’t agree with Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts on everything, but there’s a big overlap in our thinking and, hey, differences are what prompts innovation and make the world go round, so that’s good.  Yes?

The thing is that on the fundamentals we are on the same page and its always reassuring to know, when, as we marketers do, you are ploughing the lonely innovation furrow, that someone of Kevin’s gravitas agrees with you, at least in part.  That’s why I was delighted to hear him make three key points in an interview in Singapore recently (he probably made many more) that really resounded with me.

  1. The current economic situation is causing far more radical change than most people still realise and it’s going to go on for a year or two yet.  As a result, business leaders are desperate for ideas, but nervous of change, so the ideas that we take to them have to be bigger, better and more than ever before, grounded in sound commercial thinking.
  2. Marketing services businesses (Kevin focusses on Ad. agencies, I’d put brand consultancies up there too but all the other disciplines are failing their clients too) are generally way behind their clients and end users/consumers when it comes to realising what’s happening and responding to it (which, given that we are paid to be thought-leaders, is pretty damning)
  3. Awards are becoming counter-productive.  They are encouraging agency people to entrench in old-thinking.  It’s almost as though given their failure to deliver in the real world, agencies are retreating to a world of mutual admiration inhabited solely by their peers.

Where maybe I differ from Kevin is that I believe that its our job to lead our clients.  Not just to give them great ideas, but to help them fully exploit them.  This requires bigger thinking.  I am trying to go much further than most agencies, by not only coming up with new creative ideas, but having ideas about how business can change and reshape themselves, communicate internally as well as externally and do new things operationally that will enable them to get more out of the ideas.  And I go further than that even, because, as I just said, business leaders are not only desperate for ideas, but nervous of change too, so its my job as a marketer (and if you are a marketer, its your job too) to help them along the way with implementation.  That’s why I spent months working with buyers at a supermarket group to get them to think differently about their role and what they were buying and why I just devoted weeks to convincing a software organisation to take another look at the environment their otherwise great software creates for users, before they take it to market.

Sure its a lot of work, but that’s the game we are in now.  Be sure about that!