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Globalization has been terrible for consumers, says ad legend Maurice Saatchi

By Charles Passy

The man behind many memorable ad campaigns has written a new book, 'Orgasm,' that aims to challenge some widely held political, societal and financial beliefs

Call Maurice Saatchi one of the original Mad Men.

The British advertising executive co-founded two of the advertising industry's best-known firms - Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi (UK:SAA) - with his brother Charles. During his most active days, Saatchi was behind campaigns for such companies as Toyota (TM), Procter & Gamble (PG), British Airways (UK:IAG) and Mars candy. At one point, Saatchi & Saatchi "represented half of the world's 500 largest companies," according to the Washington Post.

And that's to say nothing of Saatchi's advertising work for Britain's Conservative Party, including a memorable "Labour isn't working" campaign in the '70s that helped give the Conservatives a leg up over the Labour Party. Speaking of politics, Saatchi became a British Lord in the '90s and thus serves in the House of Lords in Parliament. He was also co-chair of the Conservative Party from 2003-05.

But these days, Saatchi, 77 years old, is focused on more literary matters. His new book, "Orgasm," is a cheekily titled tome that actually has nothing to do with sex. Rather, it refers to what Saatchi calls "an orgasm of the mind," as in the explosive awareness that comes when a long-held belief is busted.

Saatchi addresses several beliefs in the book, covering a wide range of political, social and financial subjects. Along the way, we meet a host of figures Saatchi has known, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and some prominent CEOs.

We recently spoke with Saatchi about the book, as well as his life and career. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

MarketWatch: Tell us about how you came up with "Orgasm" and what you're trying to accomplish here.

Saatchi: The structure of the book is that it contains 21 popular "lies." These are the things people say that are well known and widely accepted and I present those lies and then I present my version of the truth and then it's up to the reader to decide what's true, what's not or if perhaps it's all lies. The object of the exercise is to follow what I think is generally regarded as the most revered route to wisdom, knowledge, truth and peace of mind, which is the Socratic method of reasoning by dialogue.

MarketWatch: Very early in the book you state that big companies are "now worse than Big Government." But a lot of your work as an ad executive was promoting these big companies. So, what's going on? Are these businesses now that bad in your view?

Saatchi: The corporate world has become a world of giant global corporations. And the consequence of that may be there is a huge imbalance of power between the individual customer and the giant global corporation.

Something has gone wrong with Mrs. Thatcher's wonderful concept of the free market. It is supposed to be, as she put it, a perpetual referendum in which every day thousands of people cast their votes for the thousands of products and services on offer. And from the competition, better products and services emerge. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out like that, largely as a result of globalization. The end result of competition is the end of competition.

MarketWatch: In what may be the shortest chapter in the book, you explain how to avoid meaningless chitchat at cocktail parties. Share with us your advice.

Saatchi: Basically what I'm describing is that you actually answer the question truthfully. So when somebody says, "How are you?," you might adopt [playwright] Harold Pinter's answer: "I'm dying of cancer. How do you think I am?" I know that's a very extreme example, but I have found in trying to answer that question truthfully, about what is actually on your mind in the moment...this has led to some of the most fabulously interesting conversations I've had in my life and has also led to friendships developing because both parties want to have that conversation. You should really try it the very next time.

Something has gone wrong with Mrs. Thatcher's wonderful concept of the free market...From competition, better products and services are supposed to emerge. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out like that, largely as a result of globalization.

MarketWatch: You make some very pointed criticisms of America in the book. How in your view has our country gone wrong and what can we do to fix it?

Saatchi: We look up to America for inspiration and for leadership. And without that we, the rest of the world are rather lost in terms of who is our role model.

Let's take the current presidential elections. It would be very nice, wouldn't it, if one or other [of the presidential candidates] or both of them would express what it is about America which makes it so marvelous. We want to hear that. Didn't President Reagan say America must never allow itself to be placed in a position of moral inferiority? Now [some] listening to all this may say, "Oh, well, this is just a lot of philosophical claptrap and doesn't have any effect on the economy or immigration or abortion or whatever else." But I would say it's absolutely fundamental to the way that people feel.

MarketWatch: What ad campaign are you most proud of?

Saatchi: I'd have to say that the original campaign for the election of Mrs. Thatcher as British prime minister was very important. It changed the country. I don't know if it changed the world, but it certainly led to a tremendous period for Britain and for the Conservative Party.

These political campaigns that we did for her and others - John Major, for example - won these elections in a manner which not everyone approved of, so I can't necessarily recommend this to your presidential candidates, though I probably would. Our version of a presidential election would be that this is a highly adversarial activity. This is not a world for the squeamish or the fainthearted. You're basically in a boxing ring. Your opponent has landed a blow on your face. And there's only one thing to do now, which is to land a blow on your opponent's chin, which knocks him out. And that's exactly what we did.

MarketWatch: What's a good piece of financial advice you've heard or received?

Saatchi: I think the answer is that no public company can have an above-average P/E [price-earnings ratios] for more than 10 years. That statement gets very close to the truth. We'll see what happens to the tech companies. They're doing all right so far.

MarketWatch: Any plans for another book? Or are you waiting to see how "Orgasm" will be received?

Saatchi: Well, I'd like to see what people make of this book and whether they think there is such a thing as an orgasm of the mind. As I describe it, it's a revelation. The fog lifts. Illusions vanish. Facts and lies are separated. The road ahead is straight. The destination is clear. This is a wonderful position to be in.

-Charles Passy

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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05-12-24 1624ET

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