What do you think, Kevin?

Moleskine notebooks, a bomb-proof ‘91 Toyota pickup, Gillette Sensor 3 razors, Ghirardelli’s Twilight Delight dark chocolate…. These are a few of my Lovemarks, and you have a list, too. They are those irreplaceable, faithful, tell-the-world-about-them (but Get-Your-Own) products that we can’t stand to be without.

For my fourth New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to the guy who introduced the Lovemark concept to the advertising world: Kevin Roberts.

Kevin is the New York-based CEO Worldwide of Ideas Company Saatchi & Saatchi, part of Publicis Groupe, the world’s fourth largest communications group. Before joining Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997, Kevin held leadership positions globally with premier brands including Gillette, Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble. Under Kevin’s leadership, Saatchi & Saatchi has grown revenue year by year and achieved record creative awards. Clients include Proctor & Gamble, Toyota, Lexus, General Mills, Visa International, Ameriprise, JC Penney and Novartis.

Renowned for his vision and acumen, Kevin’s pursuits span business, sports, art, mentoring and education. He is the author of three Saatchi & Saatchi books (
Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands; The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution; and Sisomo: The Future on Screen), and is co-author of Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports Organizations. The renowned All Blacks rugby team is a favorite Lovemark and Kevin is a former director of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and current Chairman of the USA Rugby Board of Directors.

Kevin is the inaugural CEO in Residence at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School in the UK and professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Waikato Management School in New Zealand. Kevin’s leadership appointments range from membership of the Publicis Groupe Management Board, and business ambassador for the New Zealand United States Council, to trustee of the Turn Your Life Around Trust, an Auckland charity that mentors at-risk teenagers.

Photograph by Nic Walker


NBoA: Kevin, what are Lovemarks and how does the concept differ from traditional branding?

Kevin: Lovemarks are the future beyond brands. Lovemarks are brands that create loyalty beyond reason, not for a reason. They’re irresistible and dripping with Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. They are built on Respect and Trust but move on to become a loved part of your everyday life.

NBoA: You've been in advertising for 11 years, and you are still very creative and energized about your work. Where does advertising, as a career, rank on your Lovemarks list?

Kevin: Number one. It’s full of Mystery and Intimacy. It’s all about ideas, juggling, problem solving, variety and people. And I have permission to misbehave everyday!

NBoA: Sounds a bit like my own job, although I try to keep the misbehavior to a minimum. Or, maybe not. In America where consumerism is king, I guess I misbehave every time I go simple, cut back or celebrate “Buy Nothing Day.” Perhaps that isn’t what you want to hear as an advertiser, but I’m willing to give an inch if you are: What good things might happen regarding consumerism if I only bought Lovemarks? (Beyond basic necessities, of course.)

Kevin: We’d be happier. Lovemarks are built on Trust, Authenticity and Respect with emotional empathy (intimacy) and optimism added. And Lovemarks must deliver on Sustainability. They must deliver a pathway to social, cultural and environmental sustainability. Otherwise, they won’t be loved. So, Lovemarks are the answer. What a wonderful world that would be!

NBoA: Even if we could be happier or more responsible for buying Lovemarks exclusively, I feel queasy about attaching love – the most precious and life-giving element we know – to perishable goods. And yet I have Lovemarks, too, like my old Toyota. How different do you see the love for my truck from the love for my children? Your book seems to put them quite close.

Kevin: Love is the most enduring (and endearing) of human emotions. It ranges across a very wide spectrum and many levels of depth, all of which bring happiness of some kind. And it’s personal. You define it. No one else.

NBoA: I've met plenty of people (and been one myself) who buy Lovemarks in order to compensate for insecurity, lack of intimacy or some other type of emptiness. Is it possible to enjoy Lovemarks without turning them into idols?

Kevin: Not only possible but in most cases it’s inevitable. Idolatry is a limited (and limiting) idea. Not many of us get sucked in today. We have too much information and knowledge.

NBoA: “Inevitable” is too far for me. I can do “possible,” but I can’t ignore ad critic Jean Kilbourne’s comment when she says that "people who feel empty make great consumers." Have you ever felt the need to talk a person out of buying a Lovemark for this reason?

Kevin: Kilbourne’s remark in itself is empty and superficial. People are consumers. All people. And people are responsible for their own happiness.

NBoA: She obviously knows we’re all consumers. That’s undeniable. So maybe you and I disagree on how much we should speak into other people’s lives. I wish more people (friends, older family members, advertisers…) would have tried talking my father out of consuming his Lovemark, Kool cigarettes, years ago, because now they’re violating his Sustainability and affecting our lives, too.

I’m trying to encourage advertisers – especially the future ones in college – toward a more responsible kind of customer care. Have you ever worked on a commercial or campaign that you later regretted?

Kevin: Yes. And nothing is as painful as regret. Fail, learn, fix and move forward. Fast.

NBoA: What advice would you give to one of these up-and-coming advertisers who desire to love – and not manipulate or mistreat – his customer?

Kevin: Make the big decisions with your heart, and the small ones with your head.

NBoA: Last question, Kevin. What's your favorite Lovemark?

Kevin: English Laundry, a small niche shirt brand from Manchester.


Thank you, Kevin, for your willingness to answer a few questions. I wish you the best in your travels and work.

Readers, you can learn more about Lovemarks and Kevin’s books at www.lovemarks.com. For the record, I have very mixed reviews about Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. As I told Kevin, I cheered and squirmed through his book because while it’s quite creative and insightful, it’s also too close to violating love as I understand it from a Christian perspective. Go check out his stuff and tell me what you think.


phil mollenkof,  September 24, 2008 at 4:32 PM  

great interview sam. your questions were as usual deep and interesting. too bad he didn't meet you at the same depth on a couple of them. Keep the interviews coming!!

Sam Van Eman September 24, 2008 at 7:15 PM  

I'm flattered, Phil. Thanks for reading!

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