Good Adverts for themselvesWinston Fletcher on the Ambition That Fuelled Saatchi and Saatchi's Success

Article excerpt

THE story so far: chairman of a once-dashing advertising agency, now in doldrums, tries to finagle himself pounds 5m bonus; shareholders get uppity; chairman quits in pique to launch new agency in hope of snaffling clients . . . Now read on.

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. …