“You Never Bring Me Flowers” (Sincerely, the Brand)

Spouses or lovers — never both. Today, we’re talking about the latter. Because, well, it’s more fun. 

I hate to admit it, but as much as we all want stability, as much as we love getting that yearly contract (not always signed by the other party), in reality, this false sense of calm is nothing more than a placebo in which collaboration, dedication, loyalty, and passion slowly diminish on both sides. Ironically, these are the essential ingredients for a brand’s growth and success: the strongest reason to maintain a long-term brand relationship in the first place.

Lovers, on the other hand, challenge each other constantly. “Lovers,” so to speak, experience an unbounded attraction to the brand, a brand that for centuries (literally in some cases) has been married to a man with a grand old name and impressive fortune. This “married couple” hasn’t made love for decades, and the impressive old agency no longer knows how to seduce the brand, to win her over and give her all that she deserves. Instead, he takes the brand for granted, knowing that she’ll never “divorce” him. Because of this staid certainty, they form a love-hate relationship, and eventually can’t even recognize the few positive moments that remain.

For these same reasons, then, the brand is drawn to the new and the novel — not just because it’s different, but also because the “love” is practically forbidden, condemned to be temporary, yet also deeply rewarding and passionate.

Today, this spark is what’s missing from so many brand-agency relationships. As brands dare to have these “affairs,” and independent agencies make the most of these fleeting romances, great ideas can emerge and generate epic results for everyone involved.

But the most important thing is to clearly define each parties’ role. These days, neither brands nor agencies take a simple position, either conforming to the stereotypical “one night stand,” or trying to usurp the throne of the older agency.

With this, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to take the place of older, often more pricey firm. My question is: Why would we want to? It doesn’t make any sense. Eventually, we’d just fall into the same boring, passionless relationship as they did, and for what, a steady wage? Really?

At one point, I would’ve defended continuity tooth and nail. I understood it as a crucial factor in the solid construction of a brand. I still believe in it. But not as the reason to maintain a relationship with the same old agency indefinitely. Over time, a brand’s and an agency’s leadership, goals, context, creatives, and even the people working in each position change. Sticking with the same agency doesn’t necessarily guarantee the continuity that the brand craves. In any case, the “lover” should respect the road that’s already been taken, honoring the brand’s choices with a fresh expression of these values. When I talk about continuity, that’s what I mean.

On the other hand, this “rich husband,” though his days may be numbered, might just outlive us all — after all, he was born long before we were, and he keeps on plugging. Maybe his survival isn’t a bad thing. Just as day needs night, the lover needs the spouse. Without him, the relationship wouldn’t be as fun. The staid old agency probably serves a necessary function, boring but necessary. Hey, somebody has to do it. For now, although it might hurt to say it, part of their role is to make money. To maintain that mansion, those cars, the luxuries and servants that their “spouse” desires. Although ironically, this boring husband is actually dependent on his wife, the brand.

Here, we return to the lovers. In this relationship, neither is dependent on the other. Both give and take, collaborating on a result that’s greater than either of them. It’s in one of these partnerships, apart from the traditional marriage of brand and agency, that world-changing ideas develop.

That’s what it’s all about. That both parties, the brand and the agency, seize the moment. Without looking for anything more, they can make magic based on mutual passion, desire, and a strange fascination with one another. It’s about behaving the “worst” that you possibly can. About doing what you could never do under a marital contract or an old spouse. Not thinking about tomorrow, instead focusing wholly on the present. About having a torrid romance, that with time and chemistry will bring everyone to a creative “orgasm” that has all the delicious newness of the first time.

At the end of the day, those of us who dedicate ourselves to the world of marketing were drawn by the sexyness inherent in the business. We need to keep this flame lit by constantly breaking with convention — whatever the convention of the moment may be.

 

What Should and Shouldn’t Be Done in this Type of Relationship.

Once each party has assumed their role, they need to avoid the inertia of an old client-agency relationship at all costs.

Keep it fun. Nothing kills spontaneity quicker than too much formality. And nothing brings life to an idea more than laughter along the way. For all those serious, formal matters, you’ve got the husband. We come in to break with routine, to provoke, to say goodbye to respectability — to leave protocol, hierarchy, and political correctness by the wayside. There’s not a single brand, let alone a single person, who can resist a meeting where nothing is taken seriously. And yet this sense of experimentation is too often missing. It’s surprising just how seriously most brands take these issues — as if we were discussing national security or world peace. I’m not suggesting that we toss all formality, responsibility, and professionalism to the side. Not at all! But we should all learn to relax and enjoy the freedom that comes with being an independent agency.

Be honest. Fear of losing an account often keeps us quiet when we see serious problems. And although no one likes to have their own mistakes pointed out to them, we’re all grateful for a much-needed dose of reality. There’s nothing worse than falling into complacency, blindly following the adage “The customer is always right”: a phrase that’s hurt our industry immeasurably. Imagine if a doctor took this same attitude. “Of course Mrs. Johnson, we’ll put the catheter wherever you want. After all, you’re the one paying!” Maybe an agency with a 15-year relationship with a client will always say “yes” to them, telling them how beautiful they are every day to avoid risk or disappointment. But if they invite us to the table, the very least we can bring is a genuine, even brutally honest point of view.

Be a tiger in the bedroom. Surely this brand means something to you, and makes you feel something. Forget missionary position. It’s time to show everything you’ve got, and experiment with whatever occurs to you. You need to blow her mind. Be romantic, but above all, be unpredictable, constantly surprising. Make her scream. Make her want to see you every single day. Take her to the limit. If you just take her to dinner and a movie, you’ll please her at first, but she’ll quickly get bored and go home. You have to surprise her with a trip to Los Cabos, to bring her to smoke pot and, why not, even do a little molly. Let her do what she could never do with her regular agency. Most of all, make her feel like the sexiest brand on the planet. If not, what’s the point?

Never fall in love. We all know how a short-term relationship goes. Memorable, but temporary. We also know that routine is always around the corner, and that what starts as exciting and spontaneous eventually converts into yet another obligation. I’m not saying that you can never maintain a healthy, positive brand relationship long-term, but rather that this isn’t the role of the “lover” agency. In this case, we lose more than we gain. This is the first step in becoming, well, just another agency — the kind of agency that makes concessions every year just to renew a contract. But if you clearly understand that this will only be an affair, it’s easier for everyone, and you can take advantage of every instant to get the most out of the relationship. In fact, this will generate bilateral desirability, improving the health and terms of the partnership.

Always use protection. This, without a doubt, is the most paradoxical piece of advice. Yes, you should be spontaneous, free, fun, sexy, and even a little disrespectful, but that doesn’t mean you should be irresponsible. Quite the opposite! Every one of our proposals, as hare-brained and daring as they seem, should be rigorously supported so that they never, never put the reputation of the brand at risk. She’s trusting us to do things that she’s never dared to do. The least that we can do is take care of the brand, ensuring her health and safety. This doesn’t just maintain the brand’s interest in us; it also builds our reputation with her friends.

Don’t try to become the star. The life of a lover can be thankless. By its very nature, the relationship maintains a kind of anonymity. In the best cases, you get some kind of discrete, cautious recognition. And that’s fine. No “Don Juan” who deserves the title goes around publicizing a list of his lovers, and yet he never lacks them. If our industry suffers from anything, it’s a lack of modesty — as if a long list of illustrious brands can make a name for us. Instead, our achievement should lie in what others say about us, and what we’re able to show in that first, romance-provoking meeting.

All this may seem directed at agencies, especially independent agencies. And in part, it is. If there’s anything the world needs — and the world of brands in particular — it’s passion, freshness, and new forms of reinvention. It’s a lot more costly for a long-named foreign agency to operate this way, after all. But this is also directed at brands themselves — to encourage them to let their hair down every once in a while. To share something beyond just a brief and business objectives. To let them break from the established formulas, the marketing plan, and even from common sense. We’re lovers for this exact reason: to be a little naughty, to have fun.

The worst that can happen is that the romance is so torrid that it’s published in the newspapers, that they take photos of us, that the world discovers us, that they love us, hate us, and at the end of the day, that they’re fascinated by our story. Later, the paparazzis follow us, we hide, flee, get in a car accident evading them, and Elton John sings at our funeral. In other words: that we make history.

 

Armando Serna

Managing Director