Last updated: June 22, 2006 12:10 pm

Ask the expert: Maurice Saatchi on advertising

Q&A

In his 40 years in advertising, Maurice Saatchi has been responsible for some of the industry’s best known slogans - phrases such as “The world’s favourite airline” and “Labour isn’t working.” Now, the executive director of M&C Saatchi is arguing that companies should boil down their brands to a single word.

Maurice Saatchi: The strange death of modern advertising

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Lord Saatchi answers your questions in an online debate.

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Has the internet killed advertising as we know it?

Pedro Proena, Lisboa

Maurice Saatchi: No. Because advertising at its best gives brands ruthlessly clear and simple positionings. And with the rise of the internet, one of a number of channels in a complex, fragmented marketplace, it will be even more important for brands to define themselves with ruthless clarity. The intellectual rigour of advertising – paring and editing down to a brutally simple thought - has never been more in demand. Of course, with the internet there are new and exciting forms of advertising – most notably interactive, but the underlying principles remain the same.

Advertising at its worst will be killed by the internet. And rightly so.

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In the past decade, branding efforts among corporations have intensified. With all of the various campaigns currently under way by various players within any given industry, aren’t consumers faced with a bit of brand saturation? Wouldn’t this put us in a bit of a post-brand era in which the product/service, and the conversation being had around it, is king?

MS: There is more complexity now than ever before. And consumers can find out more easily than ever before about products and their performance. However, brands will remain a conspicuous feature of our age. Strong, simple brands will be a shortcut through the complexity and confusion in the marketplace.

When a company owns one precise thought in the consumer’s mind, it sets the context for everything and there should be no distinction between brand, product, service and experience.

And finally, only the strongest companies will endure. The action of the market is Darwinian – the survival of the fittest.

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How will the widespread adoption of new technologies, such as digital video recorders, challenge and re-shape the advertising industry?

Jenna Hess, Buffalo Grove, IL

MS: The latest developments in neuroscience indicate that a teenager today, who has grown up in a multi-channel, digital environment, processes messages in a different way to his parents. His brain is physically different. It has rewired itself. It responds faster. It sifts out. It recalls less. This is what makes it possible, apparently, for a modern teenager in the 30 seconds of a normal TV commercial, to take a phone call, send a text, receive a photo, play a game, download a music track, read a magazine and watch commercials at X6 speed. They call it CPA, Continuous Partial Attention.

So the challenge to the advertising industry is to find a way through. My contention is that only the most brutally simple ideas stand a chance. In fact, I argue that the future of advertising, whatever the technology, will be to associate each brand with one word. This is one word equity. It’s the modern equivalent of having the best site on the high street, except the location is in the mind.

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How do you determine the appropriate range of products a brand is capable of? Coke and Virgin - both very successful - are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of applicability. Coke is more narrowly applicable to beverages, while Virgin has its name on just about everything.

Aran Lawrence, New York

MS: The strongest brands are defined by their ownership of one thought; the very strongest by one word. The nature of this thought or word predetermines the breadth of the brand’s activities. This is why companies need to think very carefully about the dominant association they wish to create for their brand. If the word is attitudinal, it is possible it will have wider application. If it is product specific, it will define the company more tightly in its category.

It is essential to remember that choosing the word involves sacrifices, the relentless editing out of the superfluous and the irrelevant. Precision is better than greed.

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How do you think a small start-up of today could build a powerful brand of tomorrow?

Joseph C A Warmann, London

MS: With a razor-sharp and precise understanding of the one thing it wants to stand for. And never deviating from it. Like Google. (It will also help to have a product as brilliant as theirs.)

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With retailer consolidation and the growth of discounters continuing in Europe, how do brands continue to hold market share?

Denis Christie

MS: By capturing people’s imagination. This is only possible if it is clear what they stand for. The brands that achieve this will be higher profile, more talked about and more sought after. Only the simplest will survive.

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Some say a positive word-of-mouth generated by advertising that forces the recipient to think rather than just forcing on a message beats anything else in marketing. Is this something you recognise in the industry?

Hugo Hammar, Stockholm

MS: Yes. Advertising must respect the intelligence of its audience and if it does not prompt them to think, it will be instantly dismissed. Particularly with the rise of the digital native, a new generation of consumer who multi-tasks and whose brain is programmed to edit ruthlessly. Only the most simple and imaginative messages will get through, and stand any chance of provoking thought – and the word of mouth that follows from it.

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What is the single word that the Saatchi brand boils down to?

Nick Sunderland, London

MS: Simplicity.

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Business/Professional services have a complex buying criteria. Each ‘buyer’ arranges a set of common priorities in a different order. How do you suggest making the ‘one word brand’ hit the target for each of these customers?

Daniela Zuin, London

MS: The one word equity for the company acts as the brand’s overarching strategic thought. All other facets of persuasion need to be reflected through this prism.

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It is usually possible to translate a phrase keeping its full meaning intact, but it is not always possible to do so for a single word. Don’t you think this would be an issue with today’s ever more global companies?

Ludovico Zaraga, Milan, Italy

MS: If the word does not have a clear meaning, universally understood in any language, it probably is not a very good word. But you make a very good point because this is exactly why companies have to think very carefully about the word they choose - which takes the ‘painful necessity of thought’.

And bear in mind, one word equity does not mean a one word slogan. The word may not even appear in the slogan. The important thing is that the brand’s advertising prompts people to associate the precise meaning of the word with the brand.

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Which is the slogan that you would like to create (but someone else did!)?

Sandra Gherardotti, Florence, Italy

MS: Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

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How would you go about summing up everything you want the consumer to see and experience from your brand in just one word? Are there any rules of thumb that can help in this procedure?

Raif Al-Azem, Beirut, Lebanon

MS: This is very hard to do. We have developed a process called WordWise. This involves applying brutal simplicity of thought to a company’s proposition. It is the ruthless paring down from a paragraph. To a sentence. To a word. WordWise involves consumers and clients globally in this process.

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Brands consisting of one word, especially if it is not an invented one, will come very close to actually branding a basic idea. Often a secondary meaning (acquired distinctiveness) would be claimed by the brand owner. Do you think that such an exclusive commercial use of single non-invented words might cause problems for other competing traders?

Borislav Bozhidarov, Oxford, UK

MS: One word equity is the global ownership of one word in the consumer’s mind.

In any one category there will be good and bad words. I envisage companies competing to own the most powerful word.

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Would your perfect ‘one word equity’ ideally be able to state the nature of the business for, say, clarity within the marketplace (Airbus and Mastercard being examples)? Or do you believe that a mix of words would be preferable, such as Powergen (a merging of the words power and generation)?

Stephen Tyler, London

MS: Airbus, Mastercard and Powergen are brand names. We are describing the association that each company wants for its brand. This association can be category specific (eg. a product benefit) or it can describe a distinctive attitude or approach.

The great point to remember is that each brand can only own one word. And each word can only be owned by one brand.

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With the proliferation of broadband and the globalization of media; how does one develop an effective advertising campaign that appeals to the widest possible audience when the audience can be so fragmented?

Clement Loh, Toronto

MS: It requires a new business model for marketing which is more appropriate for the digital age, in which companies compete to build one word equity for their brands, the global ownership of one word.

In this new business model companies aim to define in one word, the characteristic, the particular value, the emotion, the performance, the one word they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world. And then own it.

That is one word equity. It’s the modern equivalent of having the best site on the high street. Except the location is in the mind.

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Robert Lerwill, Chief Executive of Aegis Group, said this month that, digital is driving growth in almost every single market, transforming the marketing landscape in the process. Investment in digital media has now definitively moved from ‘experimental’ to ‘essential’. But why are most advertising agencies now lagging behind in creating an internal innovative culture that could recognize new Word-of-Mouth and online marketing tools, which would help their clients to send the right message in the right channels, and at the end of the day improve the Ad ROI?

Boaz Babai, Israel

MS: Advertising agencies have a schizophrenic attitude towards new media. This is because they fear message fragmentation. One word equity solves this problem. It enables the Marketing Director to take full advantage of the new exciting channels whilst ensuring his or her brand retains single minded clarity and message control.

Advertising agencies, using one word equity, can then exploit these new channels with optimism and confidence.

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With ITV1 losing serious market share and the proliferation of TV bites over the internet large advertisers are desperate to find another way of catching eyeballs. Is there a future in modern poster boards ? I believe a number of Japanese boards are very eye catching. Could a number of large ‘moving parts’ boards be the future?

Michael Stranks

MS: It doesn’t matter what the medium is that carries the message. The important thing is that one word equity guides everything.

And though there are new and interesting opportunities as you rightly describe, ITV1 remains a fantastic opportunity to communicate with mass audiences.

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Has broadcast advertising had its day? As response and awareness figures drop for TV should clients look for alternative media?

David McCann, London

MS: No. Broadcast advertising will remain a dominant feature of the overall advertising landscape provided, that is, that the media owners recognise that the same rules apply to their brands that apply to any brands, ie: that they must seek to define in one word, the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand. And then own it. That is one word equity.

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So what one word equity do you suggest for the FT itself?

Martin Ashford, London

MS: Ask the FT to cross my palm. And I’ll tell them the answer.

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Maurice Saatchi: The strange death of modern advertising

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