The Power of Love – According to Kevin Roberts

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Marketing professionals are well aware of the power of love. By inducing a sense of connection between the consumer and the good or service that is being sold, this becomes part of a person’s identity (in the same way that a loved friend might become part of one’s identity). This phenomenon, and its use to the marketing industry, has been thoroughly explored.

Most recently, this idea has been taken a stage further, in the idea of lovemarks. As Kevin Roberts, the CEO Worldwide of Saatchi and Saatchi, puts it: “Consumers need to be emotionally engaged, they need to have a relationship. A lovemark is a brand that has moved up that respect axis.”

We don2t buy lovemarks because of any rational reasons. Kevin Roberts says: “I love Adidas: Because I’m loyal beyond reason.” He continues: “I don’t care about the product, I don’t care if it makes women run faster than if they had a pair of Nikes on. Or if it makes me look like David Beckham. I’m loyal beyond any of that rational crap”

When we love Adidas, that alone is sufficient to change our behaviour. We don’t have to be told that we will run faster. We don’t have to be told that David Beckham wears them. We open our wallets and buy them, for no other reason than that we love them.

The website invites people to nominate lovemarks. They are a bizarre list of things, including Harley Davidsons, the Lake District, Greenpeace and Twitter (a social networking programme).


Sign-writer’s rendition of the Panda logo, Jim Corbett Nat’l Pk., Uttaranchal, India


The interest in lovemarks in the marketing industry points to a fundamental truth that people in the environment community would do well to take on board: The most effective way to change peoples’ behaviour is for this to be prompted by something that they love.

Kevin Roberts is in the business of selling things, and has recognised that people buy things, reflexively, when they have come to love the brand. Love, here, is a sense of continuity of self between yourself and the object. It is a sense of self-identity with something. It is a relationship with something.

As Kevin Roberts puts it:

“So what are you seeing? You’re seeing people hungry for relationships, hungry for intimacy. They’ve lost trust in all our institutions. Does anybody trust the Church anymore? You gotta be kidding me, right? Does anybody trust government? You sure as hell don’t trust the company you work for, right? Because that’s going to be Enron, or they’re going to lay you off anyway next week and outsource you, etc., etc. So there’s no trust. You can’t trust the family unit because you probably haven’t seen your father. People are looking for relationships, they’re looking for intimacy, they’re looking for bonding. They’re not interested in transactions.They’re frightened s**tless by the fact that we’re at war, by terrorism and brutality, and who knows what’s going to happen next. They are looking for a relationship, whether that’s with an author, an idea, a brand, a product.”

But this seems to me to be a shallow, fickle love. It’s a transient fumble in the dark at a teenage party. Lovemarks make me think of hickies. Hickies, or love-bites, are the marks of lust, rather than of a mature relationship. Our love for a brand should be, and hopefully always will be, different to our relationship with members of our family or our home. The things that are really important to me; the kick of my unborn daughter, a beer with a friend, the sound of chaffinches in the morning, etc. can’t be a lovemark. Lovemarks must be specific and tangible. They must be marketable.

Mediating mature love

We know from studies in psychology, that most people are either:

· Unaware of an (unconscious) connection to nature

· Aware of a connection, but unable or unwilling to articulate it

· Aware of a connection, and able to articulate it explicitly

We also know that when people identify with nature, they are more likely to take make sustainable behavioural choices. Not because they are ‘sold’ these on the basis of them being in their own self interest (energy efficiency measures) or because they are persuaded that they should behave differently, but rather because they want to behave differently. There is strong empirical evidence for this from psychology studies.

Today, a marketing strategy is deployed to shape the relationship that a consumer has towards a brand. This is managed in such a way that the relationship becomes one in which the brand becomes part of the identity of the consumer; it is a relationship which instils love on the part of the consumer.

Tomorrow, might a cultural transformation strategy be deployed to shape the relationship that an individual has towards the planet or other living things? The initial premise for the development of this relationship is that most people have an unconscious, or conscious but unarticulated connection. This is developed into a love relationship, in which the individual concerned now has a more transcendent sense of self, and reflexively engages in behavioural choices which are life-affirming. Is there a role for a mediator in this; possibly an NGO, which works to facilitate the development of this relationship? Much as an advertising agency works to nuture our love for Adidas running shoes?

Tom CromptonThe Power of Love – According to Kevin Roberts


Join the conversation
  • Alastair McIntosh - July 3, 2007 reply

    I think this gets to the essence of the matter. I have just been writing stuff for a book about climate change, in which I end up going deeply into an exploration of cigarette advertising and the creation of consumer society. I’ve been looking (afresh) at things like JK Galbraith’s The Affluent Society – it’s 50 years old, but bang up to date about the dynamics of want creation, and also, things like Dr Ernest Dichter’s article, “Why do people smoke?” where he homes in on issues like loneliness. Consumerism has been created by ontological hijacking. Any effort to become a sustainable society has got to understand that. Here’s what Galbraith had to say:

    “The general conclusion of these pages is of such importance for this essay that it had perhaps best be put with some formality. As a society becomes increasingly affluent, wants are increasingly created by the process by which they are satisfied. This may operate passively. Increases in consumption, the counterpart of increases in production, act by suggestion or emulation to create wants. Expectation rises with attainment…. The higher level of production has, merely, a higher level of want creation necessitating a higher level of want satisfaction. There will be frequent occasion to refer to the way wants depend on the process by which they are satisfied. It will be convenient to call it the Dependence Effect.”

  • admin - July 12, 2007 reply

    I just read Clive Hamilton’s response to George Monbiot’s book Heat, which appeared in the May/June 2007 edition of New Left Review. He writes something that I found very resonant with Kevin Robert’s ideas about our consumption being driven by need for relationship.

    “In modern consumer capitalism, consumption activity is the primary means by which we create an identity and sustain a fragile sense of self. If, in order to solve climate change, we are asked to change the way we consume, then we are being asked to change who we are – to experience a sort of death. So desperately do we cling to our manufactured selves that we fear relinquishing them more than we fear the consequences of climate change. This helps to explain the chasm between the complacency of ordinary people and the rising panic among climate scientists and clear-eyed environmentalists.”

  • Svenja Tams - July 16, 2007 reply

    I am trying to square this conversation about sustainable consumption with another conversation I am currently following on social enterprise lists on the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ argument — i.e. how companies can tap into the consumer markets of the world’s poor. Wonder whether these developments square or rather become squarefully scary?

  • jules - February 27, 2008 reply

    So if the things we are being asked to change (to tackle CC)are so much part of who we feel we are and we feel a sort of ‘death’ would occur if we made those changes then is what is missing some alternative vision which is more inspiring?

    Many of the things we are being asked to do right now are about ‘stop that’ and framed negatively. Too little of the story we are told is laying out a positive vision of a post climate-constrained world – one in tune with both needs and means. So the ‘green’ movement is very good at telling us how small and diminishing the ‘means’ are and the NEF type wellbeing world are good at examining the ‘needs’ part of the equation but there is little attempt to bring the two parts together. WWF does have ‘wellbeing’ as part of its One Planet Economy piece – but its very much an afterthought. This vision needs to be articulated if companies are to start getting their head around the really big questions.

    The really big question is is there money to be made for companies in a sustainable economy which is post economic growth? Well i guess there may be but only if companies evolve to being things that tune into a)real needs (and stop trying to create desires) and b)the reality that we HAVE to move to a post-growth situation where economic development is about living within the finite caryying capacity of the planet. Some companies are skirting around these questions but too few.

    Can the current manifestation of the ‘company’ really go there? Well my suspiscion is that they may have to or die. More and more disruptive interventions are likely to come from a non-shareholder driven social enterprise model which risk pulling the carpet from under current incumbents which are focusing too strictly on just-better-then-business-as-usual strategies.

    These disruptive interventions will come from innovations really thinking out of the box from open-source, social objective driven entities which are not so constrained as MNCs.

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