Kevin Roberts in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG - The current global economic climate is not merely a recession or depression, it is a catastrophe, with economic and commercial challenges requiring levels of stamina and imagination not faced before in business.  Business survival will be driven by sustainability, authenticity, trust, love and new ideas combined with an approach Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO calls 'Winning Ugly Together'.

Roberts, who was in SA this week as the keynote speaker for the AdReview advertising awards event went further, saying:  "It's going to be ugly, and the only way to face this is together, with a totally winning attitude. Winning Ugly is born of the rough and tumble of great victories on the rugby field, on the basketball court, on the tennis court, in political arenas, in battlefields with grit, guts and genius spilling out from every pore, to secure victory at the final moment.  It's about eliminating waste, cutting meetings, focusing on what is core, and being ruthless with what is not. It's a challenge Saatchi & Saatchi has taken up."

Roberts highlights the fact that the world has been living on credit for a decade and it has now all come to a shattering stop.  The bankers, economists, politicians and experts are running around in ever decreasing circles trying to explain what happened and what will happen. "But I don't think they have any idea," he adds. "Our reality is that no one has any money and we will all have to adjust to living within our means; a new thought for anyone under the age of 35."

At the same time, while 2009 will be difficult, Roberts alludes to the French expression "Nous croyons en l'homme" (we believe in mankind), and that people will adjust to the new reality. He refers to a poster developed in 1943 in the UK when World War II was creating havoc.  It said, "Keep calm and carry on."

Roberts points out that the new reality makes it clear that consumers are looking even harder at how they spend every dollar. "The more information they gather and the more comparisons they make, the higher the likelihood that when they do make their decision, it will be touched by emotion," he says. "A friend's advice, a sense of connection, a yearning for fun or excitement, or confidence in good value. In the coming months and years, Lovemarks will have new opportunities because people understand that value does not equal price."

Roberts says that Lovemarks are the future beyond brands - a product, service or person inspiring 'Loyalty Beyond Reason.' The appeal of Lovemarks (a concept created by Roberts and the touchstone of the agency worldwide) is emotional. "Companies may own brands but Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them," he explains. "They are brands that you wouldn't cheat on for anything in the world; the ones that you'll talk about to your friends, the ones that help to define who you are."

He says that the consumer wants to be inspired and entertained, not simply informed and they want to be engaged and involved, not yelled at and told. "A core concept of Lovemarks is the notion that Lovemarks do not belong to the companies that manufacture them or the retailers that sell them; they belong to the people who buy them," he adds.  "Giving up control of the brand is anathema to most companies.  But this is a prerequisite for success in tomorrow's world."

Roberts continues: "At Saatchi & Saatchi, we believe that this new world will revolve not around information and knowledge (these will be table stakes) but around ideas.  The 'Age of the Idea' is upon us because the consumer is insisting on innovation, vitality, transformation and change that make her feel more secure and happy."

As the consumers faith in brands declines, Roberts says that loyalty matters more than ever before in this turbulent world where no institutions can assume trust as a matter of course.
"But it is much more difficult to secure and gone are the days when product performance, price, quality, or value, were discriminators to create real loyalty," he adds.  "These are now basic table stakes in all categories.  The objective we must pursue is to create Loyalty Beyond Reason, beyond price, beyond attribute and to create priceless value for consumers. This requires a mixture of sustainable, functional, competitive performance and quality, combined with emotional authenticity, and magic."

Roberts says he views the African market as very important in the global scheme of things.  "While growth has stalled throughout much of the world; the opportunity for businesses to grow in Africa by putting the African consumer at the heart of everything they do is enormous."

With regard to the fact that Saatchi & Saatchi in South Africa was recently named one of the network's 'Lighthouse agencies' and one of the top 8 agencies in the worldwide network, Roberts says that the local leadership team is committed, passionate, flexible and focused.

"We have strong international clients here and a real desire to do more locally.  Creatively, South African has always been a hotbed of talent and I see no reason why this will not continue going forward," he says.  "I hope we can attract a lot of tomorrow's digital talent into the agency as well as those that really care about sustainability."

Helping turn South Africa into a True Blue nation in sustainability terms to complement the country's rainbow positioning is also something that excites Roberts very much.  "And challenging the Springboks for Rugby World Cup 2011 in my New Zealand home country is also stimulating in the extreme," Roberts adds.  "There is no more passionate relationship in rugby than the Springboks vs. the All Blacks."


Photograph: Neil Price

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