The Love Bug

June 9, 2000

Presentation Summary

An address to the International Advertising Association’s 37th World Congress. The Love Bug computer virus was fundamentally an attack on human vulnerability, human emotions, human optimism, human hope: “I love you – please open the attachment”. Brands that survive the sweeping process of brand commoditization will need to combine the deep call on human impulses exhibited by the Love Bug.


This morning I’m going to talk to you about love. I know I’m billed as the Peak Performing guy, and I will get to that. I’ll get there through Love and through an interrogation of that word “creative” which is everywhere in the programme for this congress.

My presentation title of course derives from the computer virus that unleashed mayhem around the globe last month. While the implications for security and all the rest have been thrashed in the media, the true revelation of the drama seems to have been ignored.

Even hard-bitten, experienced computer guys – those people the rest of us paint as Mr. Spocks to the tips of their very ears, opened up an attachment simply because it appeared to come from someone they knew (or they’d like to know!), and it was titled “I love you”. They wanted to be loved; they needed affection.

Think about it. An emotional and personal declaration cut right through training, security protocols, caution and, let’s face it, commonsense.

It wasn’t computer systems that the Love Bug attacked. It was human vulnerability, human emotions, human optimism, human hope.

To me this is a compelling insight for this Congress.

I have some ideas about where this insight takes advertising that I want to test with you today. Some of these ideas are provocative, some are unconventional and some lean towards the heretical.

This is a work in progress. We’ve got a slot at the end for questions but I also have a web site and I do email. So whack me over the knuckles, debate me, help me, counsel me, challenge me.

And if you’re turned on by what you see and hear today, maybe you’ll join me at Saatchi & Saatchi where all this is starting to take off. Because you’ve already made at least one great decision in your life. Going into advertising. Believe me, this new millennium is our time.

Forget the so-called ‘golden days’ of the fifties and sixties. It’s now that the business is bursting with energy and life. I smell new confidence and enthusiasm. Media spend across the board is exploding. Profits are real and expansionary. Producers are open to new ways advertising can fund their cost of content. The boundaries of advertising are expanding rapidly. Branding is everywhere.

In fact, branding has reached insane, epidemic proportions. No surface is being left untouched. So much so that I’m thinking of taking out adoption papers on the anarchists at the San Francisco site Blow The Dot Out Your

I was in San Francisco recently and I’ve got to say it: I’m with them. Blow The Dot is protesting at the avalanche of dotcom advertising in that city. I’ve seen what’s happening and it’s not communication or advertising. It’s bullying.

I don’t hold out much hope for Blow The Dot’s success, but they sure kick butt. I like that. We’re doing our bit. People around our network have been spontaneously producing BlowTheDot T-shirts.

So how come a global advertising agency like us supports local subversion of the industry? It’s easy. We think it’s a great creative idea.

Because that’s what we’re supposed to be about, isn’t it? Creative ideas. Creativity. I looked through the program for this Congress and it sure seems that way.

Creative strategy, creative organisations, creative culture, creative space, creative sport. Even creative planning! Creativity seems to be alive and well on the street, crossing the borders, around the globe. Or is it?

I was a client of advertising for thirty years and I’ve been head of Saatchi & Saatchi for just three, so maybe I’m an outsider, an edge person, but for me there are some big question marks over how the ad business sees creativity.

Like how we believe creativity is nurtured and inspired. How we come up with the break-through creative insights. Who’s got it – and who hasn’t. Big questions with mega business implications.

And the truth is that much of the industry has a narrow-minded, self-centred perspective on creativity. Too often clever games are substituted for real ideas; or the focus of the effort goes into winning awards from peers rather than creating connections with consumers.

My message? We’re in the advertising business. The purpose of advertising is to sell our clients’ stuff. Lots of stuff. More than we sold before and more than our clients’ competitors sell.

That’s why we are right behind Procter & Gamble’s new compensation arrangements. We believe we should benefit when our work does sell more stuff, and we should be disciplined when it doesn’t. It’s a no-brainer from a business perspective and I reckon it is going to shake-out this industry real fast.

This is why I have pushed so hard for Saatchi & Saatchi to think of itself as an ideas company. There are many creative paths to those ideas – and I will touch on some of them when I talk about performing at peak – but our purpose at Saatchi & Saatchi is very clear: to create world-changing ideas that transform our clients’ businesses, brands and reputations. It’s a mission that’s real, relevant and it’s a stretch. It works for our people, for our clients and for their customers.

We have 7000 people working in 152 offices in 92 countries on this mission. We have about 1000 clients across the globe. Our strategy is to burrow deep into the value chain, to get into the guts of a business and help clients create entire new sectors, new products, new ways of selling.

We don’t want a johnny-at-the-end-of-the-production-line spot; we’re after the seat right in the lab, in the garage, in the studio.

By the time it comes to talking to consumers, our ideas have already been embedded as the bedrock of the proposition.

My take on creativity is grounded in coming up with real ideas for real businesses.

The “Toyota Bugger” ad won a fistful of local and global awards, sold truckloads of Toyota Hi-Luxs, spawned dozens of front page stories as well as letters of outrage from mild-mannered citizens. In fact the impact of the idea has been so powerful that we tried to trademark the word “Bugger!”

Unfortunately we’ve had to concede it. It has been claimed that “Bugger” has been associated with Windows far more deeply than with Toyota’s utes. Windows users throughout the world apparently use the word at least once a day.

“Bugger” is a big idea that cut through.

Over the past thirty or so years our industry has put huge energy into creating the great global mega brands. We’ve created them. We’ve mothered them. We’ve fixated on them.

But something profound has been happening over the last decade. The ground is shifting beneath our feet.

From being the great differentiator, the Holy Grail of marketing, the defender of business value, I am seeing the very concept of brand becoming totally commoditised.

I hear that the way the phone is answered is critical to the brand; that the look of an invoice impacts on the brand; that the flowers on the reception desk have to conform to the brand.

Brand has become a tasteless bone gnawed at by management consultancies, image consultancies, design consultancies and yes, advertising agencies. You name it, they’re all in there scrapping and snarling, talking on and on about brand.

The concept of brand has been hijacked by managerialism and had the juice sucked out of it in the process. We’ve even witnessed the birth of instant dotcom brands which had no juice to start with – “just add water and everything will be OK.” As quick as saying Boo!

I’m here to tell you it won’t be OK. Brand has become bland: standing for nothing, falling for everything.

In every category, multiple brands are in a fight to the death.

The result? Only the fittest will survive. Some brands, well most brands, will keep doing what they’re doing and battle commodification for as long as they can. They’re on their way to the big thumbs-down.

The winners, the survivors, the reinventors? They are the massive opportunity for idea-driven businesses like ours. The opportunity to evolve great brands to the next level.

Brands are built on imitation. Great brands are built on mystery and sensuality – a relationship.

I’m going to take you through the work we have been developing at Saatchi & Saatchi on the next evolutionary steps for brands. Allan Webber has involved his magazine Fast Company in this project, and our thinking on brand evolution – from Product to Trademark to Brand to Lovemarks, from Trust to Lust – will be fully revealed in their August edition.

The evolution is from old economy to new economy. From rational benefits to emotional responses. From a world centered on companies to multiple connections with customers. From the rational to the emotional. From information to relationships.

We need to seduce our audience, one by one, lean right in close and touch them, literally, actually feel their spirit.

Brand gurus always tell us how important the values of a brand are, but I’m for spirit. Let’s look at that, at the difference between values and spirit.

Take the Wild West. We all know the spirit of the Wild West – freedom, romance, the heady mix of tragedy and heroism. How about the values of the Wild West? Clunk. Who has any idea what they were? And when it comes to it, who cares?

This distinction between values and spirit is mirrored in a device of mine I call the Love/ Respect Axis and it looks like this.

This area of the axis is where most brands sit and where most advertising agencies sit with them. It’s about carefully constructed attributes, professionalism, excellent presentation, but hey, it’s head-driven and going nowhere.

This is where the research vampires lurk too, contriving more and more convoluted measures of respect. The problem with most research is that it measures what we know, what we say and what we do. All very linear. We need to figure out what our consumers feel.

It’s the other end, the love end, that is truly important for making connections with consumers.

This is where the human spirit resides in the worlds of our own dreams and aspirations. Ideas, great ideas, do their work in the heart and in the gut. Once you have that, their minds will follow.

Companies need to get over Respect and reorganise around Love. And while they’re at it they’ve just got to come up with new measures. Love measures, like: “How fast did I fall in love with that?” “Did it hit the “yes” response in 7 seconds?” Advertising needs to be a very fast thing, it needs to be instant attraction.

We’re back to those words again: Lust, Love. At last emotion, feeling, love and yes, pure horniness, seem to be making a blip on the corporate radar.

Emotion has shot up from being something you have to “stimulate to make effective relationships with customers” – that sounds like genuine feeling, right? – to posing the profound questions. How do they feel about us? How do we feel about them? What touches them? Why should they like us, let alone love us?

Many corporations have a basic self-esteem problem, they desperately want to be loved but end up being so neutered and emasculated that they are incapable of acting in an emotionally positive way.

For something so fundamental, it’s weird that business thinking about emotion is so out-of-date. What science can tell us about the brain and about emotion has grown exponentially over the last twenty years, but business doesn’t seem to have been paying attention.

I’m no neuroscientist but my out-take of it all is real simple. Human beings think with feeling and emotion. We just can’t help it. That was the cunning behind the Love Bug of course. Emotion is the key to every decision we make whether it’s to click on an attached file or reach for our usual brand of soap powder.

All the stuff we’ve been told about “think before you act” and “think it through” – rubbish. Rational Man is a myth, and good riddance to him. Woman, of course, have always been too smart to have gotten into the rationality arena.

Think of the human brain as different layers wrapped around each other like the rings in a tree trunk marking the passage of time.

On the outside of our brain package is the neo-cortex. Here is the home of abstract thought, reasoning, deliberation. It’s where most of us like to think we live. The neo-cortex was off-duty if you opened the Love Bug attachment.

The next layer in is the limbic system or mammalian brain. In charge of emotions proper as well as learning and memory, this is where the Love Bug struck gold. Somebody loves me? I gotta click right now.

And then at the core is my special favourite, the Reptilian brain. The ancient and primitive source of our survival instincts. From here the Four Fs are driven: feeding, fighting, fleeing and f*** sexual behaviour.

The idea of a hidden, unconscious primal part of the brain driving much of what we do just turns me on.

So what does emotion reptilian-style feel like? For starters, it seems like you have to cast a New Zealander in the starring role. Here’s Xena, Warrior Princess, the delicious Lucy Lawless. And Russell Crowe as the Gladiator hits us our reptile layer. Territory. Aggression. Bristling sexuality. Competition. Risk.

Here’s how it works.

  • From products to trademarks to brands to Lovemarks.
  • From performance through to relationships.
  • From the rational through to the emotional.

This second idea maps the 4×4 Lovemark Path.

You start with attracting attention, inflaming desire, consuming that desire and embarking on a lifetime love affair.

If that sounds a bit too heavy for a Friday, then try: find, feel, fuck, forever.

Phew! Life is beautiful.

I was asked to talk today about Peak Performing Creative Organisations stemming from my involvement in a major global study that was published by Harper Collins two months ago. I’ve tried to address the “creative” part of my brief, and now I’ll take you through Peak Performance.

I’ve been in business for 30 years and I have been totally dissatisfied with management orthodoxies, especially ones based on military metaphors – strategies to target the consumer; penetrate markets; destroy the competition; launch pre-emptive strikes on rivals; deploy salesforces to capture customers; saturate them with communications.

I’m sick to death of downsizing, centralising, re-engineering, rightsizing and endless restructuring exercises. As its boring name indicates, re-engineering is a mechanistic approach that can become an end in itself. As a call to arms, it’s hardly rousing: follow the guys with the pocket-protectors, the calculators, the shiny sleeves and the stunted social skills!

I have been seeking better organisational principles to suit fast moving, transformative, ambiguous, creative times. I wanted to find out about the environments that encourage sustained, sublime, performance. And I was searching for a business model, especially one for a creative organisation like Saatchi & Saatchi, that was rooted in emotion. Looking at the current business literature for references to emotion is not surprisingly a very brief exercise.

With my colleagues from the Waikato Management School in New Zealand, we found our answers in an environment where only the fittest prosper. You could say we took a Darwinian approach. We searched in the most competitive of all human domains – elite professional sport.

The reptile in us loves it. Protection of our territory. Limits exploded. Spirit made flesh. But it’s not just for reptiles. Sport connects with every part of the human brain and pushes people to achieve new heights of performance. New peaks.

Sport has become a huge social, cultural and business phenomenon. Sport is empowering and enfranchising more young women and men than any other movement of our time. In the United States it is the tenth biggest industry. Sport is bigger than music. Bigger than the movies. Bigger than the Internet.

Our research findings and the business model we developed are published in the book Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sporting Organisations.

Here are the organisations we examined:

In Britain, the Williams Formula One team, with its obsessive desire to “go faster”.

In Germany, the national soccer team and the perennial champions, Bayern Munich – motto: “More than 1-0”.

In the United States, the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco 49ers, all bywords, in their sports, for sustained achievement.

In Australia, the men’s national cricket team, with its utterly unreasonable expectation – and maddening ability – to win every test; and the women’s netball and hockey teams, as tough-minded as their sledging brothers.

In New Zealand, the All Blacks, the oldest dynasty in world sport, a team with a 74 per cent win record over 104 years, for a century the team, in their code, that everyone has wanted to beat. And Team New Zealand, the yachties who took the Americas’ cup from them, and hung on to it.

Right now in preparation for the publication of the US edition of the book we are finalising our studies on the New York Yankees and the US Women’s Soccer team.

From a wealth of conversations and observations we developed nine principles of peak performance. These ideas are simple, powerful and effective. They work. They’ve been tested in the toughest conditions by some of the greatest sports teams ever.

1. Greatest Imaginable Challenge. This challenge defines your highest ambition. It must be achievable (but demand a real stretch from where you are now), exciting and measurable. A great example is Team New Zealand’s challenge: “To retain the America’s Cup forever.” The Australian Cricket Board want to “win every international game”. And they do.

2. Inspirational Dream. This is how your challenge is transformed into the principles you need to motivate your people. This, as is so much about peak performance, is about the phrasing of language. For Williams Formula One it is “the joy of speed”. The Chicago Bulls want to “make magic”. “Make the boat go faster” belongs to Team New Zealand, and of course “nothing is impossible” has been the mantra of Saatchi & Saatchi since day one.

3. Focus. Focus is about specific actions – instantaneous, instinctive, next three days, next three months. Success is visualized everywhere and every time. Nothing stays the same for long: 100-day plans and short-term goals concentrate energy and attention, and give immediate feedback.

Focus operates in many ways. Focus needs to be short enough to concentrate all of the mind and body, and long enough to achieve something special. The best focus stories are of quantum shifts achieved under pressure of time.

Michael Jordan’s last second goal which won the Bulls’ last NBA title was a moment of pure, ecstatic focus.

4. Sharing the Dream. This is how Peak Performing Organisations extend their horizon of possibilities. Dream sharing involves building on historic success, celebrating new successes, building powerful iconography and displaying the symbols of achievement.

It is in this field of dreams that the spirit of the organisation blazes out and attracts others who want to be part of it. I believe that Love must be central to the dream.

The most potent symbol of sporting success I’ve ever seen is the All Black jersey. It’s simple, plain, black – and absolutely inspirational. It inspires awe – the All Blacks, it’s said, come dressed in mourning for their opponents. And, for the men who wear it, that jersey inspires a huge and humble pride.

5. Creating the Future. This requires a deep commitment to mentoring, development and continuity. You only take on the best people, and you have to selectively prune your team. Someone in the Chicago Bulls had to go so the light could shine on the young Michael Jordan.

And there is the necessary process of anointing the successor. In New Zealand we’ve recently had the sensation of Russell Coutts giving up the chance of becoming the greatest ever America’s Cup skipper by handing over the wheel to the young helmsman Dean Barker in the clincher race of the regatta.

6. Fostering Community. This is a very, very important part of how human beings like to live. Time and again in our research for the book we found deliberate, intricate, intimate ways of community-building.

Community creates a calm environment that facilitates mental clarity, confidence, a sense of security and a climate of discipline, hard work and reward. There are minimal formal rules, people learn from failure and everyone benefits from success. Relationships are built on mutual trust, respect, pride, loyalty, sacrificial play, co-operation and a sense of belonging.

7. Exceeding Personal Best . The PBs. This is the deep commitment by each individual to improving their own performance. Each person sets higher and higher personal goals, then seeks to beat them. Each person takes responsibility for their personal impact on the organization’s performance, going beyond mere technical skill to creativity, intuitiveness, risk-taking and experimentation.

8. The Last Detail. This means each and every detail is valued. The smallest edge can make the difference between success and failure. Extreme precision, extreme restraints, extreme results.

9. Imagining Game-Breaking Ideas. I contend this entire stream of the Congress needed to be called “Game-breaking ideas” rather than “creativity”.

Game-Breaking Ideas win the game for PPOs. People are pushed intellectually to create new ideas for thinking about the game, the competition and their own organization. Saatchi & Saatchi holds game-breaking ideas as the highest form of achievement. “Bugger”, for example, is a game-breaking idea.

A key element of Peak Performance, perhaps the unifying element, is the Inspirational Player. This is to me the most powerful and attractive term in our exploration of peak performance. “Inspirational Player” replaces the term leader and manager in today’s business lexicon. IPs live the dream, they enforce the dream, make it move and inspire others.

Inspirational Players are in every section of life, they have powerful ideas, they are restless, they are role models who recruit, mentor and develop others. We’re not just talking about charismatic stars who can single-handedly transform organizations: Inspirational Players are spread throughout organizations. Most have served their organizations for many years.

For example, in the Players Lounge of the New York Yankees, just by the door out into the stadium tunnel, there is a collection of photographs of all the great players. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. All their greats, beautifully and symmetrically placed on the wall. And in the centre, Rosie, the receptionist at the Yankees for 30 years. Inspirational Player.

Checking back over the nine principles you see a very clear picture of what a peak performing organisation looks like. And it looks very much like the successful organisations of the new economy.

Where old economy companies stress structure and strategy and process, new economy companies hit what I call the “I’s” and the “E’s”. Ideas, imagination, intuition, insight, inspiration. Emotion, empathy, energy, excitement and edge. So now you know what the ubiquitous “e” stands for, it certainly ain’t for “electronic”. Saatchi & Saatchi: the “e” company. The “e” is for emotion stupid!

And E stands for Edge. To extend the organic, biological metaphor, it is from the edges that the great, transforming ideas come. That’s what I’m after. The Love Bug virus certainly came from the Edge … who would have thought of the Philippines if they were looking for subversive ideas?

The edge is what counts. Look at your own business. You’ve got to know who’s the youngest, the oldest, who’s got the most tattoos. Who’s from Iceland, from Bangalore and most importantly, who’s from New Zealand. Then slice and dice your assumptions and prejudices on their edge. That’s why I still live at the edge in New Zealand and only camp in London and New York. Come visit me at

I started off this morning by talking about a virus. A love virus that unbuckled more than a few chastity belts around the world. Now imagine harnessing the deep human impulses that powered that epidemic and combining them with the reptilian emotion of an All Black Haka!

I believe that such a fusion has the potential to be one of the most important and exhilarating developments we’ve seen in advertising since the invention of brands.

I have seen something like it when sports organisations hit peak performance. That dazzling combination of inspiration, emotion, stellar performance and great ideas.

You will ignore this powerful combination at your peril. For, as my final story proves – if the emotion doesn’t get you, the reptiles surely will.

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