The word, the whole word, and nothing but the word

J ust as the changing seasons never fail to gladden the heart, with their reassurance that, whatever Fate might have concealed behind her back, the rhythm of nature beats on regardless, so the regular arrival on the scene of a ripe old adman b

Maurice Saatchi’s latest elixir is One Word Equity, a mono-syllabic cure for modern marketing ills, including the dreaded continuous partial attention

J ust as the changing seasons never fail to gladden the heart, with their reassurance that, whatever Fate might have concealed behind her back, the rhythm of nature beats on regardless, so the regular arrival on the scene of a ripe old adman bearing the true answer to all of marketing’s ills bucks the spirits and warms the cockles, like one of those tonics that used to be sold from the back of a cart.

And they don’t come much riper than Maurice Saatchi. Yet, like the Queen of the Nile, age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety. We have seen his many facets, marvelled, and foolishly dreamt there could be nothing new. We have seen Maurice the stripling, photographed on the edge of greatness with his brother Charles, later to achieve merited distinction as a collector of pickled sheep and other assorted junk. We have seen Maurice the architect of electoral victory and the confidante of prime ministers. We have seen Maurice the robed and ermined peer, perhaps a shade plumper but wiser still and with eyeglasses of a size and severity to match his sagacity.

But what we had not seen, and were not prepared for, particularly in the autumn of his career, was Maurice the dazzling quick-change artiste. Like one of those music hall performers of old who beguiled and delighted audiences by stepping behind a screen and emerging in an instant as someone new, first, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, then a bearded Assyrian prince, then a washerwoman, Maurice appears first as himself, then as a graveside mourner tossing a handful of dust onto the lowered coffin, then as an Old Testament prophet, then as a miracle worker raising the dead, and finally, to thunderous applause, as an evangelist moving among us with a collection plate and beaming countenance.

This remarkable performance, one might call it a tour de force, was to launch One Word Equity, M&C Saatchi’s astonishing elixir and cure for all marketing ailments.

It is a kind of homeopathy, diluting advertising again and again, dissolving in the process pages, paragraphs and sentences until all that remains is a single word. Every brand must do this until each has identified one word, the word it would most like to be associated with and over which it will claim ownership worldwide. “Each brand can own only one word,” says Maurice, adding mysteriously, “and each word can own only one brand.”

This requires tremendous intellectual effort, he says, but the alternative is the winding sheet and the requiem. It is at this point that Maurice affects his black tie and matching silk hat. Modern advertising is dead, he says, cut down in its prime. “I feel as if I am standing at the graveside of a well-loved friend called advertising.”

What killed him? Multiple “ology”, explains Maurice, a deadly combination of sociology, technology and psychology. Family life has gone, mums, dads and children no longer sit together in front of the television eagerly waiting the next commercial; thanks to technology they are not even all watching the same screen; and, worst of all, they are not the same people. They are either digital natives, who grew up with new technology, or digital immigrants, who have tried to learn the language later in life and have only partially succeeded.

The digital native’s brain is physically different. It has rewired itself. It responds faster. It sifts out. It recalls less. In the 30-second span of a normal TV commercial, says Maurice, the modern teenager can take a telephone call, send a text, receive a photograph, play a game, download a music track, read a magazine and watch commercials. The phenomenon is called continuous partial attention.

There is only one way to impinge on the consciousness of the hyperactive moron and that is to bellow a single word in his ear. And should an advertiser wish to discover that word, the open sesame that will allow entry into the teeming brain of the digital native, he or she has only to give Maurice a call and he will loose his minions to the chase.

“It’s an attempt,” he says, “to take advertising out of its coffin and give it new life”. It is, he adds, like the answer to a prayer. Enlisting St John as an endorsement, he reminds us that in the beginning was the word, “not several, only one, it’s singular.” He’s right, you know.

And so, ending the Lesson, he declaims that One Word Equity is “the guardian, the protector, the saviour of the brand, the route to salvation and eternal life.”

Hallelujah! Praise be! Hail Maurice! One word, eh? That powerful? Wow! I’ll take a dozen.â¢

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