The End Of The Affair

So that’s how it goes down now, huh? An agency does brilliant, category-defining work for a decade, they work their ass off, put their heart and soul into every single detail, right down to the price stickers on the windows, and then bang, it’s Dealey Plaza time all over again.

Arnold and Volkswagen: Welcome to Advertising 5.0. Bend over, this won’t hurt a bit. Well, perhaps I’m being a bit … unprofessional, but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em right?

I guess we ask for this, those of us who chose this profession that lies at the intersection of art and commerce. It is an unholy alliance, and pain is the price of glory. We crave the highs, even though we know the lows may kill us, but man, the highs are just so damn good. But there is a big difference between the concept of death and being shot in the head point-blank while sipping your soy latte on a Monday morning.

As an owner of a small agency, it is very unnerving to me to think that a phone call is all it takes.

I’m not sure why, considering that I’ve gotten them before and no doubt will again. Perhaps the tsunami or the roadside IEDs or the subway bombs or the hurricanes are just making me feel a bit … edgy!

Perhaps I am pining for a long-past mythical age when business was conducted in a more courteous manner. We ply our trade in the strangest of times, and I think it’s only natural to get a little depressed by the seeming randomness of it all.

I have no idea if VW’s decision to fire Arnold and go with Crispin Porter + Bogusky will prove to be the right move. CP+B is a great agency, but then again, so is Arnold. But this isn’t about whom VW left Arnold for, but why.

VW broke up with Arnold! Oh my god, they were such a great couple.

Great advertising, or whatever the trendy phrase is that describes what we do these days (data streaming?), is not about great work; it’s about great teamwork. It’s about those rare and special client/agency relationships that change the rules of the game and inspire other clients and agencies to achieve the same magical bond.

I know Arnold had that with VW. I was there when it happened, and I know it was there long after I left. The proof is in the work produced, the awards won and, of course, the cars sold. Were sales down recently? Apparently. What about over the last decade? Up or down.

VW and Arnold were like that great couple at the cocktail party that all the other couples look at with envy. Sure, they fought, but looking at them, you could tell they were in love. And now, to us, it feels like they actually were just faking it. The magic left them years ago, and they were just sticking it out for the kids’ sake.

We all feel exposed because we believed in their love.

Perhaps this is why this news is so upsetting to many of us in the industry. The questions Arnold and VW must ask themselves are, How could we have let this happen to us? When did we stop trusting each other? And why? And wasn’t this relationship, which produced so much great work, worth at least a couples’ retreat to rekindle the magic? Apparently not.

I hope some good comes of this. I hope all clients and agencies that care about the relationships they have spent so long fostering take the time to talk to each other honestly and try to work it out before that phone call gets made. There is great talent in so many agencies; most just need the element of trust to make it happen for them. Sure, it’s hard work—the hardest work—that’s why it’s called just that.

OK, enough. Thanks for listening. Back to work.