Few advertising agencies are instantly recognisable by name outside of advertising circles.
One that is, is Saatchi & Saatchi. Not only is the agency widely known in New Zealand, it is treated by the public at large with awe, reverence, and even gratitude. The reason is that Saatchi & Saatchi’s New Zealand operation has, through the years, given us some of our most loved local advertising. They include, most notably, Toyota’s “Crumpy” series, and making Tui’s “Yeah Right” campaign (created originally by Mojo Advertising); which was one New Zealand’s most anticipated advertising campaigns of all time.
It is true that they are not the force they once were, here or worldwide. But credit where credit is due; at its height, Saatchi & Saatchi brought a new wave of creativity into advertising. They gave creativity an almost tangible quality. You could almost taste it. Before Saatchi & Saatchi, advertising was formulaic and risk adverse. Saatchi & Saatchi, through their UK ads for Margaret Thatcher and their other clients, created advertising that was provocative, compelling, and had a real affinity with its audience.
Not bad for two brothers born in Baghdad.
The creative brain behind the business was Charles Saatchi. Long before becoming a reclusive art collector and his much publicised falling out with wife Nigella Lawson, Charles Saatchi was an acclaimed copywriter working on accounts such as Ford and Selfridges department store. He entered advertising first, in 1965, followed five years later by his younger brother Maurice.
In 1970, the two started Saatchi & Saatchi with the goal—at least of Maurice—of becoming the largest advertising agency in the world. By the end of the 1970s they reached No. 1 in the UK. In May 1986, Saatchi acquired US-based Ted Bates Advertising, and with that acquisition Maurice, achieved his goal.
And here we come to an intriguing paradox: the tenuous link between creativity and commercialism, or, to put it another way; whatever happened to Charles Saatchi?
Charles Saatchi, brilliant copywriter though he was, was never comfortable with being at the forefront of his business. He shied away from publicity. Maurice, on the other hand was the gregarious brother—outgoing, and constantly wining and dining existing and potential clients; always looking for ways to expand the Saatchi & Saatchi empire.
It is not known what Charles thought of his brother’s behaviour. He remained an enigma—reclusive and notoriously reticent to make any public comment on anything to do with the business.
What is known is that, as the business grew, Charles increasingly withdrew; initially from the commercial involvement and then from the creative side. While Maurice’s reputation grew, Charles’ influence dwindled to the point that his presence became little more than ceremonial. Eventually, he withdrew from all active involvement in the business.
Why, may never be known. Charles Saatchi is certainly not telling. But it is interesting to hypothesise that perhaps he did feel that commercialism and creativity were uneasy bedfellows. That he could draw a distinction between them that none of us working in advertising could see or would support.
Perhaps that made him uncomfortable.
Today, and largely though his own creativity and the business activity of his brother, Charles Saatchi is an immensely wealthy man. What he is not, any longer, is an advertising man.
That is of his own choosing—but the advertising profession lost a great one there.