Saatchi’s legend Kevin Roberts on the death of advertising’s golden age and the lack of industry leadership

Kevin Roberts

“The role of advertising is no longer to build brands but to create movements”

The “golden age of advertising” is over, and the industry has a “critical lack of purpose-driven leadership”, according to former Saatchi and Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts.

Roberts told Mediaweek, the impact of technology and the rapid pace of the industry has irrevocably changed the sector – “the golden age of advertising is dead, gone and over”

“Those days, Madmen of my time, they’ll never come back. We have a revolution led by social networks, technology, and power to the consumer. So, the role of advertising is no longer to build brands but to create movements.”

Roberts shared his bleak outlook for the future of the industry, following his presentation at the World Business Forum in Sydney last month.

“I’m not sure there’s a future for holding companies. I’m not sure there’s a future for big.”His outlook zeroed in on how fast and close advertisers can get to the new generation.

“In terms of people working, our employees, our leaders, we need to give people leadership responsibilities earlier and younger. The key tools are they’ve got to be caring and demanding.

“The future of, if you call it advertising, depends on caring, demanding leaders who can be incredibly curious about the future.”

Many of the models I see in brand advertising are yesterday’s models. They are not relatable to today’s up-and-coming consumers. So, they’ve got to be very open, but they’ve got to be asking more questions than they currently ask.

Roberts, who was the global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi from 1997 until 2016, and has since worked as a business coach through his company, Red Rose Consulting, believes the industry is only as good as its leaders.

“Great leaders and great teams make each other,” he said. “What a great leader does is develop with his team a shared purpose, a shared set of beliefs, framework for decision making, and gets out of the way.”

“My real rule in leadership for my team was always to use your best judgement. So, you hire your best people, share your purpose with them and use your best judgement at all times.”

Looking into the new year Roberts will be working on Supercurious an integrated communication and creative agency based in Canberra and led by Jaime Wilson, as the agency’s global chair.

On their work in the year ahead, Roberts said: “The industry can expect the unexpected, and I hope they’re curious about that.”

Top image: Kevin Roberts

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