SINCE Christmas it has been just about impossible to open a newspaper, watch television news or switch on your radio without being bombarded by the S-word: Saatchi. Or Saatchi and Saatchi. Or The New Saatchi. Or Maurice Saatchi. Quite suddenly a moderately well-known adman has become a national celebrity, banishing the late Frederick West, Camilla Parker Bowles and even vulgar, vulgar, vulgar Fergie from the front pages.
To understand why we must take a brief stroll through the maze of recent advertising history. Twenty-five years ago two Napoleonically ambitious young brothers, the aforementioned Saatchi and Saatchi, launched their own agency. Charles Saatchi, the crea t ive genius, was then 27. Maurice, the business brains, was 24. Within two decades they had built the largest advertising business in the world.
From the start they exhibited personal qualities that have never deserted them. As well as ambition, they displayed a prodigious flair for self-publicity, a willingness to take entrepreneurial risks, a lust for lolly, an occasionally eccentric lack of judgement, and an unswerving confidence in their own destiny. Quite early on they let it be known that they expected the empire they were building to last at least a couple of hundred years. Now people are wondering if it will last another couple of hundred days.
However, confidence is one of the most powerful words in the advertising lexicon. Even to this day, despite all the pseudo-science, despite all the phoney psycho-babble, despite all the testing and the shmesting, advertising is still a highly subjective business. Like fashion, music and the movies, it is built on talent, style, instinct and intuition. Cast-iron certainties are as rare as cures for baldness. That is why, astonishing though it may be to outsiders, most admen wrestle with angst, introspection and insecurity. But Maurice and Charles seem never to have been assailed by such petty neuroses. Like Muhammad Ali they knew they were the greatest.
The Saatchis' confidence was perhaps the more surprising because they did not bother to develop any particular dogma about the way in which advertising works. All the previous agency moguls who successfully built multi-million-dollar worldwide networks believed they had discovered advertising's holy grail: the way to create perfect advertisements. From J Walter Thompson to David Ogilvy, from Leo Burnett to Ted Bates, from Albert Lasker to Bill Bernbach - all of whose agencies still exist, J Walter Thompson having been going for over 130 years - each had his own advertising philosophy.
The Saatchis have never suffered from such pretensions. The nearest they have ever come to an advertising philosophy has been their espousal of globalisation - the use for such clients as Mars and Procter & Gamble of the same advertising theme over many different countries and languages. But globalisation is just ambition with a capital A, not a formula for the creation of more effective advertisements. On the contrary, many advertising folk, including almost certainly the younger Charles Saatchi, are firmly convinced that globalisation is a formula for the creation of less effective, more banal, advertisements.
Globalisation is a business philosophy, not an advertising philosophy. When Professor Theodore Levitt, the management guru, first propounded the theory of globalisation - the belief that people throughout the world are becoming ever more homogeneous, an d that goods and services should reflect this growing uniformity - advertising was hardly mentioned. However, the Saatchis, with characteristic acumen, spotted that Levitt's beliefs could be applied to advertising. They hired the guru and grabbed ownershi p of his thesis. All of which makes it difficult to see how Maurice can now be contemplating the launch of a local London boutique, lacking the international network so close to his heart and so vital to the servicing of globalised campaigns.
Again in contrast to the Saatchis, the other founders of mighty agencies not only developed their own credos about advertising, but also defined and promulgated them in writing, so their staff and clients could understand and apply them. Maurice and Charles, so far as is known, have never delivered themselves of even a brief memo on the subject. To quote from Ivan Fallon's hagiography, The Brothers: "They have no interest in philosophising or intellectualising about advertisements". And later, q uoting the Saatchis: "Most advertising is either `terrific' or `shit'." Those pungent adjectives, while obviously deeply felt, could hardly be described as philosophical.
As a result, Saatchi advertising has never broken new ground. Certainly not in the way that David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, Ted Bates and Bill Bernbach all did in their day. Nobody in advertising ever talks about the Saatchi style: they have no special style.You cannot parody the idiom of Saatchi campaigns: they have no particular idiom to parody. Watching the box at home, or flipping through the magazines and newspapers, you could not identify a Saatchi ad. Neither can I, and I've been in the business for more than 30 years.
And that has been one of their greatest strengths. Lacking any constricting convictions, the Saatchis have been able to create campaigns for clients as diverse as British Airways and British Rail, Ariel detergent and the Tories, Silk Cut cigarettes and the Health Education Council. (Their pregnant man campaign, though it hardly ever appeared, remains one of the most famous advertisements in the world.)
Though their campaigns have never been truly innovative, the Saatchi and Saatchi agency has consistently produced remarkably good advertising, from which they have wrung every ounce of personal publicity possible, and more. Will Maurice's New Saatchi agency produce advertising as remarkable as its double-barrelled predecessor? Will the New Saatchi agency ever exist? You'll have to read on.
The writer is chairman of the advertising agency DFSD Bozell.
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