"At the age of only 50, advertising was cut down in its prime," he says. "Advertising holding companies used to boast about their share of the advertising market. Now they are proud of how much of their business is not in advertising. How did this happen?"
Most of his answers are familiar: social changes (families no longer sit down to watch TV together) or technological (too many alternatives)—external factors over which advertising people had (and have) no control.
So what’s the solution? “A new business model for marketing, appropriate to the digital age. In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind…. to define the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world, and then own it. That is one-word equity.”
For example, the word “search” is now owned by Google, he says. For 20 years, “favourite” was owned by British Airways. Sony used to own “innovation”, but that word has probably now been taken by Apple.
“The challenge is to find the word, the word that guides everywhere. And once it is found, never to forsake it.”
I’m not sure Saatchi’s insight—even if you buy it—solves advertising’s problem, though. Companies won’t own a word just by repeating it over and over in paid commercial messages. They’ll own it only if consumers decide the own it. Companies aren’t in charge of their brands any more, consumers are. Advertising may help them reinforce ownership of a one-word positioning, but it can’t establish that positioning.