Covered in lovemarks: the obituary of Kevin Roberts, died 2040

by David Slack / 27 September, 2016
Kevin Roberts obituaryKevin Roberts
Man, Ad Man
Died April 1, 2040.

Kevin Roberts has frozen to death in Antarctica and a thousand women could not save him. He was 94.

Kevin was not a man who simply sold stuff. For Mary Quant, Gillette, Procter & Gamble and Pepsi, he curated beautiful marketing campaigns “for everyone who was ever thrilled by a car chase or wept over a motherless deer”.

And then New Zealand, last bus stop on the planet, home of the mighty All Blacks — mightiest warriors ever known — invited him to run Lion Nathan. It had become fashionable to hire people from elsewhere in the world. They were supposed to be geniuses. Also it meant senior management could put themselves on New York money and not just whatever they were paying Gary in the warehouse, multiplied by five.

Kevin loved that it was a million miles from anywhere. He loved that everything was black. He loved the bungy jumping. It was life on the edge. He could feel a strapline coming on. Before he knew it he was running the country’s winningest ad agency and telling an entire nation what to think about Wellington and beer and the meaning of life.

He would say, “My contention is that what should not change is whatever we do that connects most powerfully with people,” and people like Jenny Shipley would take him seriously.

The froth reached its fullest head with “Lovemarks” — not so much a book and website as a marketing yoga movement — promoting the idea that you can put a label on something and inspire “loyalty beyond reason”. There was also something called Sisomo.

People couldn’t get enough of him. They put him on the Telecom board. Universities made him an honorary professor. Saatchi & Saatchi made him boss of everything.

Then a business website asked him about women in advertising. He declared that many women just didn’t want to be promoted. It wasn’t their thing. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy,” blathered Kevin. “Like hell,” exploded tens of thousands of women.
All of a sudden, it was time to bow out.
He sat down and wrote a book, patiently explaining how you could become a better feminist by studying an All Blacks game.

He felt awful. People seemed to have got the wrong idea. He sat down and wrote a book, patiently explaining how you could become a better feminist by studying an All Blacks game. The blogs and tweets just seemed to get more shrill.

Two decades and nine books on, getting nowhere fast, it was time to think outside the box. He chartered a cruise liner to Antarctica, taking along a thousand working mothers and a documentary crew.

“What is the glass ceiling, really?” he said to them, standing on the deck in the frigid cold. “I’ll tell you. It’s just water, gone hard. Can you break water if you’re a woman? Of course you can. Let me show you how.”

Feminist Michele A’Court was on board, not quite believing what she was seeing. “He tucks the ice pick into his wetsuit, tips into the water and dog paddles around a bit. Next thing he’s under the ice, chipping away. Chipping chipping chipping. Then after a few hours it goes quiet.

“We say to him over the radio, ‘Kevin, how are you doing?’ He says, ‘Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast is a leadership maxim I advocate.’ It goes quiet again for another hour. Then there’s some crackling and he says something like ‘Lean in’. Then nothing.

“I suppose we should have gone down after him then, but to be honest the peace and quiet made such a change. We all just stood there thinking how nice it was.”

Illustration by Daron Parton for Metro.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more