Love Machine

Wednesday, 21 February 2001 - Los Angeles, USA

Love Machine Driving Fast

Presentation Summary

An address to the 12th Annual Automotive Advertising Strategy Conference. One of the great themes of last century was the love affair with the automobile. If this huge, vitally important industry is to sustain a decades-long romance, it has to realise it is not just “moving metal”. The automotive industry must turn marques into lovemarks.

We’re here to discuss “The Big Questions”, right? Well I’m not sure I know what the Big Questions are. But I know your wives, husbands and partners do. The biggest question of all – “Do you love me?”

When I talk to the media about the auto industry they seem obsessed with problems. What’s the impact of an economic slowdown going to be? How can the industry break out of parity? How can you stop margin erosion? What kind of differentiation counts? And always, do you know what consumers REALLY want?

The big answer to all these questions is: Don’t Worry. Be Happy. The auto industry is one big Love Machine.

Consumers have been having a love affair for decades. With the automobile. “Love Machine” is just one of thousands of popular songs starring vehicles. What a head start you have on canned goods manufacturers and margarine makers!

The love affair with the automobile. What an extraordinary story. And it’s an affair that still smolders. Consumers: we ignore them, you misunderstand them, we bore them and they still keep coming back for more…. Because, thank God, sometimes, in spite of ourselves, we truly delight them.

So here’s our challenge. It’s not about reduced budgets or economic slowdowns. It’s not about mergers, acquisitions or even price wars. In today’s turbulent, media-driven uncertainty it’s about stepping up and acting like lovers, not bored spouses or indifferent one-night-stands. This is a huge challenge.

When I talk about Love and Love affairs, I’m not talking soft and squishy love. I’m talking drop-dead, right-between-the-eyes, changing-your-life Love. The only kind worth going after.

A year ago I said that brands had stalled. Trapped by process and formulas they had run out of juice. Fixed on management, brands had forgotten about spirit. They’ll all about information, not about relationships.

Nothing has changed my mind. We have to get over brands and into Love.

Let me tell you what I mean with my Love/ Respect Axis. The high respect quadrant is where most brands and many car models sit. Functional excellence, quality performance, defined benefits, solid information. Car on road. Sound familiar?


The bad news is that consumers have had a diet of this stuff pushed at them for years. It’s what they expect. You have to be in the high respect quadrant simply to stay in the game. There are no break-throughs here. It’s all incremental. It’s all a slog. It’s all business-as-usual.

It’s here – the High Love quadrant – that the potential lies. Love builds on respect (can’t do without it) but it really takes off when emotional connections are made that create long-term value.

Here the future will be won and lost. Here the meaningful differences will be drawn. And here premiums will be earned.

Many brands won’t make it. They will struggle on with declining margins and indifferent customers and end up as commodity corpses.

But some brands will make it to the future. They will be the ones that understand that the greatest relationships in life are built on Love.

In a mature industry like ours the choices are stark. Step up to Lovemarks or slide.

We are in the midst of a decades-long shift from transactions to relationships. From manufacturers to retailers. From retailers to consumers. In the automotive industry the shift to consumer power is well underway.

The production-centric “push” model is giving way to a consumer-centric “pull” model bringing radical changes to design, manufacturing, distribution and sales.

Nothing in this world stays the same. We’ve gone from products to trademarks to brands. Now we must move up to Lovemarks.

Why now? What has changed to give Love the lead? Three big reasons.

1. The Attention Economy

This idea has been around for a decade or more but it still packs a wallop. Why? Because we experience it every day. People are overwhelmed by thousands of TV channels, movies, radio stations, newspapers and magazines. Millions of websites. Billions of phone calls, faxes and e-mails. The average global marketing director today receives an average of 150 emails a day, not including voice messages, beeper messages, faxes and hard mail.

Too much information! And now you guys want to pump more information into my vehicle. Collision-warning systems. Navigation systems. Mobile phones and Internet-equipped computers. The automobile is an information hot-bed.

The reward for overwhelming people with information is the death of a thousand yawns. That was the lesson for many media companies through the late 1990s. Take care. When people are overwhelmed by choice, they switch off. It’s only one click to no clutter.

2. From the Rational to the Emotional

Finally science is catching up with common-sense. It’s a fact! Human beings think with feeling and emotion. We just can’t help it. Even economists – hardly emotion experts – are getting it. They now agree that humans can behave irrationally – and sometimes destructively. All those simplified models of the decision-making process. Trash them. People can’t tell us what they really feel because – they don’t know!

Some marketers reckon they’re on to it. One strategized about the “intangible yet visceral impact of a person’s subjective experience with the product.” Whoa! If I ever talk about emotion like that you can tag and bag me.

Emotion is authentic human warmth and feeling. Human beings take everything personally. They know intuitively when you’re faking it.

The automotive industry has a huge advantage: the people in the business. Talking with car guys is an amazing experience. It’s a Love thing. Cars are their passion. This is a profound love affair.

But there’s a disconnect. It’s OK, it seems, to love a vehicle, but not to love the people who drive it.

Buying a car is buying into a dream. So it surprises me to hear car guys writing off this highly-charged, emotional moment as ‘moving metal’.

I know the sales business, but that’s transaction talk. People aren’t buying metal, so why are we selling it? They’re falling in love with a shape, relaxing into a luxury interior, thrilling to perfect handling.

“Moving metal”. It makes us sound like one of the oldest professions, not one of the youngest. Remember, in a love affair, performance only gets you so far!

Everywhere I look I see a failure of spirit in management and strategy.

Over the last three years I have been working with colleagues from the University of Waikato’s School of Management in New Zealand. Our mission? To find better organizational principles to suit fast moving, ambiguous, creative times.

“Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sporting Organizations” was published last year. The US edition has just come out.

Our conclusion? It’s not about management, doing things right. It’s not about leadership, doing the right things. It’s about inspiration. Inspirational challenges, inspirational dreams, inspirational players. Breakthroughs come from big ideas like love, dreams and emotion. You won’t find them if you stay mired in incremental adjustments dancing tricks to suit the metrics.

The people who put the pieces together first, win. Love of your company, your products and your customers. That is what the new breed of customers are looking for: commitment and passion as well as all the respect stuff.

3. Women

My third reason why we need Love right now is a major one. Women.

Candice Carpenter, the founder of, is on the Board of Saatchi & Saatchi. She is one of the smartest people I know. Candice tells me women influence or control 80 percent of all new purchase decisions. They make up 57 percent of new online accounts. They start 70 percent of new businesses. Over the last three decades median incomes for women have increased by 64 percent. For men they decreased 6 percent.

This is a new era for women and every business has got to be up for it. Last month I was invited to Portland to introduce Love to the new Nike Women’s Division. Nike may be masters of branding, but they know something is missing. They got it when I told them it was Love.

Women don’t need niche treatment. They don’t want cut-down versions or simplistic explanations. No wonder the research findings about women are confusing. Do they have special needs or don’t they? Are they more concerned with the interior or a car while men care more about its exterior? How do women feel about red? How do they rate performance?

All questions going nowhere.

My belief? Women are smarter than men when it comes to love. Our culture is becoming more feminine in its focus, its concerns, its passions. This is really important.

Everyday we have to think faster and more flexibly. We need to juggle more stuff at the same time. We have to become experts at making personal connections. All these things say “women” to me because they do it better.

The first automobile company to follow Nike’s lead and open a Women’s Division will leave clear air between itself and its competitors.

But it’s not just about targeting women better. It’s about knowing that women will make the running – and more of the driving – in the next decade. What women go for will spearhead what everyone will go for. The fantastic surge in popularity of women’s sports, for example, is just the beginning. Women are heading for the peaks.


So if Love is the spirit of this new age how do we draw on its power? My answer is Lovemarks. Lovemarks is a game-breaking opportunity to reinvent brands.

We’re speaking to Big Brands about these ideas. They get it. They want it. Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Nike. Toyota. They’ve all asked for in-depth Lovemarks presentations.

Over the past months I’ve developed my ideas on my websites. It’s still a work in progress, so please join in. Check out

The connection is simple. Great marketing is about emotion and empathy, seduction and dreams. This is the stuff you need to succeed in the coming decades. The new “right stuff.” The stuff of Love. And that’s right where Lovemarks belong.

What makes Lovemarks transcend brands is their Mystery, their Sensuality and their Intimacy. Lovemarks can generate extraordinary insights through what I call the Lovemarker. Insights you can act on fast. Insights that sprout ideas. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have used the Lovemarker to sharpen our thinking about many brands.

We’ve also used it to talk about places, concepts and even personalities. It has always been interesting to put Bill Clinton through the Lovemarker!

Now I’ll take the moving heart of American life through the Lovemarker: the automobile.


Let’s look at Mystery first. I see Lovemarks wrapped in great stories and great metaphors. Iconic characters always feature. The very human attraction to secrets hides here. Those qualities that make something special, unique, loved.

Great stories: You can all fill in this one. Cars were at the centre of the story of the last century and will continue to drive the stories of this one. Babies are born in them, lovers make out in them (75 percent of all Americans have had sex in cars according to Playboy!), newly-weds begin their lives together in them, holidays start with them. This is the country crossed by Route 66. The country of “On the Road” and “Thelma and Louise”. Your customers inhabit these stories every time they hit the road. Our challenge is to find new resonance in the familiar stories.

Secret ingredients: Today there are no secrets when it comes to performance and reliability. To most 21st Century drivers cars are perfect. This great achievement of quality and craftsmanship sometimes comes at a loss of emotion. We need it back. We need secrets that don’t shut anyone out of the tree-house. I’m not talking encrypting the specs, I’m talking about vehicles that are sold on more than starting, steering and stopping. How about some fun things to do under the hood without being an A-grade mechanic or a certified car guy?

Past, present, future: I’ve seen some cool examples of heritage design but to me combining the past with the present is not just putting the ghost in a new machine. It’s easy to lose the connections between past and future in the rush to make an impact now. What else can we value from the past along with gangster grills? How else can we romance the future? What will show our customers we continue to be the love of their lives? Heroism, wonder, intimacy and lust – and stronger than all of them – family.

Dreams: This is great territory for us. Status, identity, sexual conquest. The auto industry is a cradle-to-the-grave industry. But don’t forget who owns the dream. We all do. Every one of us is a customer too who buys into the dream. Here’s the disconnect between our passion for vehicles and how we feel about our customers. We need to enter into each others’ dreams, not default to the clichés of car culture.

Mythic characters and icons: The automobile is an American icon. It should have a stack of Oscars! Best actor in a supporting role. How about the back seat in “On the Waterfront”? But most of the Awards? Performance, performance and performance. I’d love to see awards for sexiest roadster, closest family member, bravest SUV in a crisis, dearest companion!


Our five senses sustain and energize lifetime love affairs. The automobile has a great lead here: it sells the real, physical stuff of life. But today’s quality of manufacturing has a downside. Vehicles have become hermetically sealed with air conditioning, sound proofing, electronic controls, peerless suspension. They are worlds unto themselves. Find new ways to reach the senses of your customers.

Touch: The big one. We spend a lot of time in our vehicles – and we’ll be spending more. We may not like it, but if you happen to live in a city like L.A. you have no choice. Be kind to us. Designers are making the experience better step-by-step, but how about by leap-by-leap, or by breaking into a dance? Watch for an orange light ahead too: do not allow sterile online strategies to undercut hard-won sensuality.

Taste: You might laugh at the thought of getting taste into a vehicle. The people at Apple Computers didn’t. They looked at their gorgeous iMacs in their sexy translucent colors and they thought what I did. Yum! There’s a rich menu of associations out there waiting to be tasted.

Vision: In 1935 “Arts and Decoration” magazine described the car as “Painting and sculpture in motion”. They were right. Today car design is exciting – but to me it could still break out from cool functionality to sensual functionality. From our strong design foundation we can now rethink the package and broaden the visual repertoire. Mining history is fine but now we can go beyond style and tunnel into emotion. Those tribes too young to drive are waiting to be touched. By what they see. We need the hot-shot designers but we also need a real feeling for people. Then we can tell when the designers have got it right.

Smell: Here I’m on safe ground. A J D Power report from August last year tells me that the smell of a car interior has a major impact on purchases. So far, so good. We know it, but what are we doing about it? Why don’t different models smell different? Why can’t I decide how mine should smell. Where are your after-shaves, your scented polishes and your perfumes? Promise her anything – but give her Lexus No. 5.

Sound: Falling in love with a girl or a guy always comes with a soundtrack. Gotta be the same way with cars. An alien who didn’t register movement might figure cars to be listening devices. Alive with CDs, tapes, radios. Now mobile phones, internet devices. True sound machines. So far it’s just another quality you all share. Make a break from the pack. Music makes mood. How about deepening the personality of a vehicle with music. Personalized sounds for me in my automobile. Forget the horrors of voice activated controls until you get one that sounds … like a human voice. Or brave enough to use sound and no picture.


The third signature of a Lovemark is the intimate connection people feel with it. Intimacy is about closeness. It is the small secrets shared only by people who know each other better than they know themselves. Intimacy is the glow that keeps love alive. The J D Power Consumer Center and fit here.

Emotion: Emotions can be frightening and threatening. Humans feel far more negative emotions than positive ones. Think road rage. That’s why I fix on Love. As marketers we can pull the triggers of envy, fear, doubt and all the rest, but I’m wary of manipulation. Tinkering with people’s emotions pisses them off once they realize what you’re doing. Talking down to them, manipulating them, is a turn-off. Consumers nowadays are too savvy. The key is whether the emotions you are stirring connect personally. And the emotion that does this truthfully and brilliantly is of course Love. Passion.

Empathy: It converts quick flings into life-long love affairs. I don’t rate the automobile industry as being very high on empathy. It’s not about data. The best dealers know it’s about getting out there. So do the best designers and marketing folks.

Metric mania just squeezes the juice out of any fresh idea. When did the measurements of a close friend or lover make any difference? Remember when one of the most common photos in the album was Mom, Dad and the kids in front of the family car? No more. Why? You want a Lovemark metric? How about the number of family snaps with the car?

Inspiration: I guess this brings me back to “moving metal”. How inspirational is that? If you must talk moving metal, talk about how the metal moves you. Moves you emotionally, moves you to tears when you see it sculpted into a dream machine, moves you in your heart, not in your calculator.

My summary? 

The automobile is a Lovemark. It is woven into the very fabric of society. But this powerful pumping heart is slowing down. Become overly familiar. Your fear of parity and commoditization is justified and Love is the breakthrough you need.

There is something else. The question put in a recent Prospect magazine cannot be dismissed: “Can we love the car?” With a future dogged by fear of poor air quality, global warming and a shrinking oil supply, is Love possible? Fear and Love do not make happy partners. The environment may not be on consumers’ radar yet, but the industry must show leadership and vision. We are running out of time. Our largest worldwide client Toyota has convinced me that we need earth-friendly vehicles, and we need them now if this great love affair is to keep breathing.

Love is a two-way street. People have to love, truly love the experience. I’m not talking affection or even lust but that enduring love that forgives a few foibles. It is the sort of love that gets families through the hard times. The love that works on cruise control when you are distracted or inattentive. Love in the bank.

I feel the automotive industry is on the cusp, but not because of economic slowdowns and all this macro stuff you read about. No. To me the Lovemarker shows the real pressure points: some lack of insight into customers – especially women; a reliance on media clichés to create images; doing stuff because you can, not because customers value it; resting on the achievements of the past.

To create Love Machines in the decades ahead will be tough. Environmental pressures, increased expectations of corporate responsibility and rising fuel costs will make differentiation even more difficult.

But this should also be a great time. A time for recommitment and affirmation. We’ve got great products, great design, great people and a great track record to work with. We’re professional and competitive. We’re sitting on top of highly respected brands. Can you step up? Can you add mystery, sensuality and intimacy? Can you connect with the heart?

Can we move from brands to Lovemarks?

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