By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
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By LA Weekly
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“Aquí está su conejito,” I said.
He took the bunny from me and briefly held it against his cheek. “I am very sorry,” he said in English, with obvious agitation. “I don’t have any money to pay you . . .”
“Oh, no, no. That’s okay.” I assured him that I only wanted to see the bunny safe and sound.
“We were cleaning the house,” the man said. “We put him outside in a box, and when we looked again, he was gone. The children were very unhappy.”
“I could tell he was a pet,” I said. “He’s so tame.”
I was sad to have to go. But then the bunny snuggled against his father’s naked chest, his long sleek ears flat across his back, eyes blissfully closed. Home.
The Adman Cometh
If you watch television, you know sometimes it’s the ads, not the shows, that provide the entertainment. No surprise, then, that a thick crowd milled through the second-floor aisles of Borders in Westwood last week, eyeing Kevin Roberts, the British head of global advertising house Saatchi & Saatchi. Roberts, who’d flown in only hours earlier from Tokyo, where he’d been conferring with Toyota, seemed to understand the yearnings of his audience. They were hoping that the cocksure pitchman might reveal, with the aid of three oversize flat-screen TVs, the cryptic code of advertising.
Roberts didn’t disappoint — mostly because he knows the enemy. Whether he has read it or not, he has absorbed the insights of the opening chapter of Das Kapital, the dense formulations of that 19th-century political economist, and mooch, Karl Marx. “We are consumers by nature,” Roberts said. “For virtually all the world’s citizens, our possessions add meaning to our lives. That’s why we buy, exchange, give, treasure and possess them.” Marx famously derided this as “the fetishism of commodities.” As if to mock the crusty German materialist, Roberts’ assistants busily distributed, and those in attendance promptly donned, small acrylic heart-shaped lockets that pulsed with red light and illuminated the ad guru’s latest coinage, Lovemarks, always written with a lower-case cursive “l”.
The title of Roberts’ book, which he was there to sign, is Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. “We are at the end of a great journey,” he said, “from products to trademarks, from trademarks to brands. Brands have stalled. It’s brands blah, blah, blah. They’re lost in the clutter of the attention economy.”
How, then, to hook consumers? With “lovemarks,” said the black-clad, 54-year-old, tri-continental salesman(he has homes in Auckland, Tribeca and St.-Tropez). “Lovemarks are super-evolved brands that make deep emotional connections with consumers. It’s about loyalty beyond reason. If you take a brand away, people switch to another. If you take a lovemark away, they go mad.” With images of two motorcycles as his backdrop, the bald, slightly paunchy CEO proclaimed, “Suzuki, just a goddamn motor bike. Harley, lovemark.”
At this point in his well-rehearsed talk, Roberts reminded his listeners that he was about to give away a Prius — “the car that owns Hollywood” — to the winner of an essay contest whose task it had been to describe a product he loves. The crowd, focused on the adman, was unmoved by the chance at $20,000. They wanted an ad, and they got one: Battling rugby players, grunting and chanting in what sounded like Maori, duked it out like Greco-Roman wrestlers unhinged, exerting themselves with a pure lust to win. An unmistakable message, punctuated by one word: Adidas. Applause as the screen went black. The assembly understood and admired the implication, that the signature white shoes with the serrated black stripes contain the passion of those men on that playing field — a mystique Marx perceived 150 years prior to its packaging.
The Adidas ad, and a pair of comedic ones for Brahma, the Brazilian beer, were the buildup to Roberts’ sign-off. “People don’t park their emotions outside the marketplace,” he said. “Who cares what the reality is? What matters is the dream.” The screens flickered back to life. Snapshots of a father and son growing older together from birth to death, with Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son” (“I was once like you are now, and I know that’s not easy”) dilating the emotions. Then the logo for New Zealand Telecom. A real tearjerker, at the end of which Roberts proudly said, “Don’t forget to phone your father.”
Before the 125 or so people exited into Borders’ airless subterranean parking lot, they were permitted to put a few questions to the Saatchi exec. Like a politician, Roberts took the opportunity to recite yet another chapter of his philosophy. Three kids, as he tells it, came to his agency looking for jobs. They were handed cameras and told to come back the next day with three photographs that would, Roberts recounted, “change the world. Apart from the Australian, who took the camera and didn’t return — Australians do that — guess what one kid came back with?” Not missing a beat, someone called out, “Pictures of himself,” the perfectly obvious answer. Roberts said, “We hired him.”
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