Walk Through the Fire

Thursday, 23 October 2008 - New York, USA

Walking in Fire

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts’ lecture at Syracuse University looks at the concept of brand loyalty, the importance of positive attitudes and the meaning of True Blue. Kevin explains that “these are times for emotional toughness. We have to push new limits and conjure new positions that take our emotions to places they haven’t been before”.

It’s great to be with Brian Sheehan – part of the Saatchi & Saatchi family in New York as a graduate, then Japan, Hong Kong, Japan again, Sydney and then Los Angeles where as CEO of Team One he drove nine straight years of Lexus performance – the relentless pursuit of excellence. At Saatchi & Saatchi we call him a peak performer, an inspirational player.

This talk is called “Walk through the Fire.” These are challenging times.

I’m a radical optimist. I grew up poor so for me every day is about upside, about focusing on strengths and opportunities, and about seeking and creating and experiencing joy.

For a decade I have been speaking about the power of inspiration, the primacy of emotion, the drive for peak performance, Lovemarks as the future beyond brands; ideas, insights, excitement and edge.

These are all things that you as communicators, marketers, influencers need to immerse yourself in. None of these things change in the face of the imploding physics of the financial markets.

This financial situation was anticipated for the whole world to see via the electronic billboard in Union Square that has been counting the US national debt since 1989. When the clock was first displayed the national debt was $2.7 trillion. It’s now $10 trillion and counting. America has over-borrowed and over-spent. And you can’t spend a trillion dollars plus on a foreign war and not feel the effect.

What we are experiencing is biological. Creative destruction. And as with all things biological, new forms of life, new rules of operating and new sources of abundance will emerge. Ideas from the edge.

Edward de Bono says, “there’s no point being brilliant at the wrong thing.”

The stakes are high. The US consumer alone accounts for 18 pc of total global GDP, more than China, Brazil, India, Russia, Japan combined.

My career has been based on the simple premise of “meet, beat, repeat” and that’s how I intend proceeding.

These are times for emotional toughness. We have to push new limits and conjure new positions that take our emotions to places they haven’t been before.

People are 80% emotional and 20% rational. Reason leads to conclusions. Emotion leads to action. Neuroscience proves this. John Bargh, NYU psychologist, says that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second.

The emotional construct we need to go towards is what I call the “And/And Economy.” This puts Paradox centerstage – the art of balancing two complex opposites at the same time so they enhance each other.

And/And has been perfected by Toyota. Their thinking and language is based around paradoxes which force owners and employees to constantly grapple with problems in order to drive a constant stream of new ideas. Ideas come from everyone and everywhere. They drive for ultimate solutions and zero compromise.

The starting point for And/And is to set near unattainable goals – which are purposely vague so that employees must take responsibility for figuring out how to get there. By simply saying “we want to improve the environment”, the Prius came to be created.

The following five foundations of the ‘Toyota Production System’ come from a recent article in the Harvard Business Review – “The contradictions that drive Toyota’s success” – by Hirotaka Takeuchi et al.

The first Foundation of And/And in challenging times is to move slowly and take big leaps. This is the value of Kaizen – continuous performance.

The second Foundation is to grow steadily – one inch at a time – and be paranoid – about exposure, about cost, about competition, about where your innovation is coming from.

The third Foundation of And/And is to be frugal on some things (turn the lights off at lunchtime for starters) and splurge on key areas such as continuing investment in talent, innovation and marketing.

Be simple about lines of internal instruction and communication; and complex about social relationships and networks. Outsmart not outspend. Increase media share of voice. This is a time to be building your communications edge because recessions are optimal times to build market share. We did this in Asia in 1997. We have achieved this with Toyota through three economic crises. Increased advertising will expedite action, sales, preference and loyalty.

And the fifth Foundation of And/And is to go hard on rational value and priceless emotional value. Balance sales messages that reframe value and build competitive, high-order brand propositions.

This opens the central point of my work, the relationship between Respect and Love. Get the chemistry right and you achieve premium sales, margin and preference – the things brands were designed to do, until they ran out of juice.

  • Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are created out of Love and Respect.
  • Brands are owned by management and stockholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  • Brands build Loyalty for a Reason. Lovemarks inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason.
  • Great Brands are Irreplaceable. Lovemarks are Irresistible.

Here’s a tool to navigate through perilous water. It’s a tough reality check.


Low Love/ Low Respect. Commodities – Without differentiation. Zero Respect, zero heat. US Airlines. Wall Street.

High Love/ Low Respect. Short-term, fun. Instant karma. Fast moving consumer goods. Movies and pop music. A lot doesn’t make it out of this zone. But some fads shoot through the Respect bar and become Lovemarks. Text messaging started here.

Low Love/ High Respect. The House of Brands. Performance and benefit-based; at parity in design, service, price, attribute. Home of the ER words: faster, bigger…cheaper. Trusted but not Loved.

High Love/ High Respect. Lovemarks. Authentic, true, sustainable – and Loved.
The principle: don’t give people what they think they want. Give them what they never dreamed possible.

Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy are the fast track to Lovemarks, in fair times and foul.

Mystery mixes dreams, icons and stories to create the attraction of the unknown. Most communications are overloaded with information. If you know everything, there’s nothing to attract you. Mystery pulls on past, present and future.

Sensuality brings sight, sound, scent, touch and taste. The five senses are portals to the emotions. Music creates moods. Listening creates relationships. Vision stimulates. Touch pulsates. Scent and taste take you to places of delight.

Intimacy is about shared emotional experiences. Intimacy means knowing without knowing, feeling before saying, loving before wanting.

Intimacy is empathy, commitment and passion. Infusing all three with emotion is how we helped P&G become 2008’s Advertiser of the Year at Cannes.

Lovemarks has infused every part of Saatchi & Saatchi – research, which we call Xploring; shopper marketing – the “theater of dreams”; onscreen – we call sisomo.

What has fired me up this year is the desire for sustainability across our society and our system.
I passionately believe that the role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. I wish I could say this for all business.

The banks have not covered themselves in glory. Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs observed that America can find $700bn for a bail-out of wayward banks but could never find a small fraction of that for the world’s poor and dying. This year bankers awarded themselves $30bn in bonuses, roughly the world’s entire aid budget for 800m people in sub-Saharan Africa.

At a fundamental level, business plans, executes, connects and dreams the global flow of goods, ideas and experiences.

Business creates jobs, choices, opportunities and self-esteem.

Business unleashes innovation for the purpose of improving lives.

How do you shift the dial? You move from Green to Blue.

We created a sustainability movement in Saatchi & Saatchi in 2008 that has a radical method of instigating personal action.

  • Green is about the environment. Blue fuses environment, economy, society and culture.
  • Green is about fear. Blue is about radical optimism.
  • Green is about obligations. Blue is about opportunity.
  • Green is about the planet. Blue is about the people who live on it.
  • Green asks, “What’s to be done.”Blue asks, “What can I do?”

Green to Blue matches Respect to Love.

Dream – A world full of happy people contributing to a healthy planet.
Spirit – Act Now


  • In moving from limits to possibilities.
  • In the power of consumers to change the world.
  • Sustainability is a catalyst for business growth.
  • No sustainability, no Lovemark.

I want to draw full circle, from the meta-economic situation raging around us, to you personally, as you plan for life after Syracuse. Philosopher Daniel Dennett said that the secret to happiness is to find something bigger than yourself, and then devote your life to it.

How can you be the best you can be?

Ask yourself three big questions:

  • What’s my five year dream?
  • When am I at my best?
  • What will I never do?

Management is not the answer. And nor is classic leadership.

Inspirational Players give their people a Dream, not an instruction manual.

Martin Luther King did not say “I have a Mission Statement.”

Inspirational Players understand that their Dream makes everyday matter.

You want to know what it’s really like out there? The answer is simple. It’s what you make it. You can be part of a new wave of optimism that business can make a difference, that inspired business performance can uplift the world.

Your job is be an inspiration to others. And to Act Now.

How to Win in the Age of Now


Spanning creativity, leadership and execution, Kevin Roberts’ presentation to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Wellington Chapter is an inspirational primer in: Wanting to Win, Ways to Win Now and Ways to Keep Winning – the secrets of Peak Performance so that winning becomes a habit.

Up, Up and Away – Rotary Newmarket


Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, talks to the Newmarket Rotary Club about Winning in the Age of Now, and how to turn a brand into an irresistible Lovemark for the next generation.

Start Me Up


Kevin Roberts gives keynote speech at the 6th Annual Global Competitiveness Forum “The Entrepreneurship Imperative” held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sharing three ways to win in the region.

Set Fire To The Rain


In this presentation to Spotlight On Lancaster at Lancaster University, Kevin Roberts talks about enabling, energizing and activating creative partnerships and achieving Vibrant, Crazy, Unreal and Astounding impact.

Brighter Than Sunshine


Presenting to AAC Saatchi & Saatchi in Bermuda, Kevin Roberts shares three key ideas on connecting people around ideas that create Loyalty Beyond Reason.

Magic Time


In this presentation to EmoDay in Amsterdam, Kevin Roberts shares five key ideas on emotional innovations and creating Lovemarks.

Just Can’t Get Enough


Presenting to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education in Oxfordshire, Kevin Roberts presents three ideas on creating Loyalty Beyond Reason and creating frameworks for development discussions.