2021 Small AOY Silver: For the love of BHLA

The new(ish) shop's mission is to build creative brand platforms that stand the test of time.

Group_extended - Broken Heart Love Affair

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of strategy.

If Jason Chaney, Todd Mackie, Carlos Moreno and Denise Rossetto were to compete in a relay race, there’s a good chance they’d miss the starting pistol while under a Tai Chi trance.

“In our previous lives [at network ad agencies],” says Todd, a partner and one of the three CCOs at Broken Heart Love Affair, “strategists would work with clients for months until they figure out the strategy. Then they hand it over to the creative department. [But at BHLA], we’re all together, all the time and we’re moving in the same way.”

While CSO Chaney and CCOs Mackie, Moreno and Rossetto ideate in unison, CBO Beverly Hammond is their conductor. The five ad execs – with a collective 116 years at 14 network agencies, where they led some of the most celebrated campaigns on the awards circuit from Cannes to CASSIES – founded the boutique agency to be a powerhouse stacked with senior talent.

The question is, how do five highly decorated agency heads, who are used to running the show, not get in each other’s way? “Well, Carlos says it best: ‘No matter how we come at it, we all have the same intentions,’” explains Rossetto, describing BHLA’s mission, which is to “bring the love of advertising back” to clients, consumers and the creative community. “And that leads to a chemistry that you just can’t manufacture.”

The idea to open an agency with an inverted model, where experienced talent create advertising instead of just managing it, was initiated by Chaney when he became fed up with hearing about straining client/agency relationships and the disdain consumers have toward ads. The antidote, says Moreno, was to create a shop that focuses on building masterbrand platforms that “stand the test of time” and “are able to deliver the emotional messages that human beings need.”

Platforms like Kruger’s “Unapologetically Human” and Internova’s “Go Human, Book Human” were crafted not only to help the companies navigate the calamity that was 2020, but to also introduce new behaviour codes, says Chaney. Both celebrated humanity, whether through moments that are universal yet deemed taboo (clearing a snotty nose, sitting on the loo) or the interactions people have with each other (like booking a flight with a real person). And both implored consumers to see the brands, and the categories they sit in, from a new POV.

Mackie says launching BHLA two weeks after the first lockdown was a “terrifying hurdle that actually turned out to be a catalyst” for the agency’s success. “So many brands at the time were clamouring to say, ‘We’re with you and we understand you’ but they didn’t really have a brand voice,” he explains. “The pandemic accelerated brands to look inward and realize that, ‘Wow – we actually don’t know who we are. We’ve been doing so much performance marketing over the years to get short-terms sales and we haven’t been building our brand or love story.’”

Many agencies have also divested their ability to build brands, says Chaney, developing processes that favour short-term, tactical creative – which is one of the reasons BHLA eschewed an hourly billing model. “We product price,” says Hammond. “It’s changed everything. We put value on the output. It’s a fundamental switch and clients are really digging it.”

Offering a project-based cost system also puts the risk on the agency as they’re under the pressure to deliver. “What’s been interesting to me is that first round strategy has generally been bought [by the client]. And same with creative. We’re nailing the creative first round,” says Chaney. Mackie concurs: “It feels like when you’re at a traditional big agency, you get a couple home runs out of 300 projects each year. But here it feels like our hit rates are 80-90%.”

Rosetto says the agency – which has grown to 25 people – doesn’t like to overcomplicate things. That’s why it chose to open LifeLong Crush (LLC) as a separate entity with its own talent pool. As the team likes to say, “BHLA brings back the love, while LLC keeps the love alive.” In other words, the former focuses on brand and creative, which is then handed off to the latter to manage production, content and activation.

Two years in, the agency is starting to deliver on its mission to bring back the love of advertising – consumers and retired employees, for example, have sent unsolicited emails to Kruger saying how proud they are to be associated with the brand after seeing its campaign. The creative community also seems to have deep affection: “I get a lot of love letters in my LinkedIn,” says Rossetto, while Hammond says the shop is becoming a bit of a “talent hoarder.” As for clients? Well, says Hammond, “in our first fiscal, we were profitable. So I think that tells the story.”

New business
Kruger Products, MadeGood, Internova Travel Group, Air Miles, Arterra, Four Seasons, Georgian College, Hershey Canada, Kids Help Phone, MoveSnap, Ozery Bakery, ROM, Stewart Family Estates, Canadian Celiac Association, Everest, Fever-Tree, Lawrence Plaza, Omy Cosmetics, Promise Gluten Free, Totum Life Science

Staff
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Small AOY cases

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1. Small Agency Campaign of the Year: For Kruger Products, BHLA created a platform that eschewed the typical cuddly animal and fluffy euphenisms seen in tissue brand campaigns, instead opting to show the messier moments in life. The spot was cast with a Canadian blend of ethnicities, gender and sexual identifications and even different family configurations. The strategy was centred around the notion that there is strength in softness, and that, as humans, vulnerability is our strongest attribute.

A Job Well Avoided - Image 1

2. MoveSnap is a start-up digital concierge that removes the stress of moving by taking care of the headache-inducing admin and logistics. BHLA created an unignorable design system with bubble people in bubble worlds. It also created “bubble rap” featuring the musical talents of Canadian performers like Shawn Mendes.

Unapologetically Human
3. To promote the value of booking through Internova’s real-life travel agents, a video showed a creepy, cold android giving viewers a tour of a desolate destination, with the tag: “Don’t let a machine choose your vacation. Go Human. Book Human.”