Why This Canadian Agency Is Choosing to Open Its Doors Now

Founders are forging ahead with plans despite the pandemic

Photos of five people working in bed
The five founders of Broken Heart Love Affair have launched their new agency from home. Broken Heart Love Affair
Headshot of Minda Smiley

As far as strange ad agency names go, Broken Heart Love Affair is up there. But what’s perhaps stranger is the fact that squarely in the midst of a pandemic, the agency’s founders are moving forward with launch plans.

Broken Heart Love Affair is the brainchild of five Toronto-based agency executives who’ve held leadership roles at some of the city’s biggest shops, including BBDO Toronto and Cossette, and have racked up a number of accolades along the way. Most of them recently left their positions to start Broken Heart Love Affair, and all have agreed to officially open up the agency for business now, in spite of the current global climate.

“About a year ago, a couple of us started chatting and talking about the things that we wanted to create. A lot of us are reflecting on our careers and have been in this space for a very long time,” said co-founder and chief strategy officer Jay Chaney, who previously served as chief creative officer of fintech company Koho. “We started looking for new challenges and ways to push ourselves. For a lot of us, it was really about the one last frontier, which is opening our own shop.”

Other founders include Denise Rossetto and Todd Mackie, who recently left their roles as chief creative officers of BBDO Canada, as well as Carlos Moreno, former global chief creative officer of Cossette. All three will serve as chief creative officers at Broken Heart Love Affair. Rounding out the team is Beverley Hammond, the shop’s chief business officer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Republic, a Toronto-based independent agency.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to upend the status quo, forcing many companies to temporarily close their stores and rethink their marketing strategies, it’s not exactly an ideal time to set up shop as an ad agency. Rossetto said many discussions went into how they could go about announcing their plans during such a sensitive time.

“It’s a hard time to talk about yourself,” she said. “We’re definitely terrified, but at the same time, we really believe in what we’re doing. We have to be positive. We’re now a Canadian small business, and we have to carry on.”

Luckily for them, Rossetto said others in the industry have been “super kind and generous” as they go public with their new venture.

“Our competitors have offered to help us,” she said. “We just hope we can become successful enough that we can then be people that help other people when times get tough as well.”

Mission in mind

Broken Heart Love Affair’s ultimate goal is to put creativity at the heart of its efforts.

“Our mission is to make people fall in love with brands again,” Chaney said. “I think there’s also an opportunity to make clients fall in love with the experience of creating advertising again.”

Rossetto said she and the other founders were inspired when McDonald’s chose Wieden + Kennedy New York as its lead U.S. creative agency, taking it as a sign that marketers are perhaps becoming more invested in the power of creativity and the impact it can have.

In a “love letter” they penned to the industry, there’s some not-so-subtle criticism of advertising’s obsession with data, targeting and the like, all of which they imply has come at the expense of big ideas.

Text with the title 'A Love Letter to the Industry'
Broken Heart Love Affair

“We want to get back to creating, and we want to give clients access to people that have been around for as long as we have who’ve seen a lot of the work, and [know] what works and what doesn’t work,” Chaney said.

Broken Heart Love Affair already has a few clients under its belt, including Kruger Products, which manufactures a number of tissue, paper towel and toilet paper brands. It is also working with Kids Help Phone, a charity that provides confidential counseling to Canadian youth.

The founders hope to provide clients with the kind of boundary-pushing work they’ve each had the opportunity to create throughout their careers. For instance, under Moreno’s leadership at Cossette, the agency created a number of striking ads for The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. During his time at Cossette, the shop also stripped the Honey Nut Cheerios mascot from boxes to make a point about declining bee populations.

At BBDO Canada, Rossetto and Mackie led a number of innovative campaigns, including one for Regent Park School of Music (RPSM), a nonprofit that provides subsidized musical education to kids, that involved a tie-up with Taylor Swift. The two also worked on “Greatness is Rare,” a series of visually stunning ads for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

As for the agency’s odd name? Chaney said it’s rooted in the “heartbreak” creatives grow accustomed to when their ideas aren’t embraced by clients.

“Oftentimes those ideas get killed and discarded very quickly,” Chaney said. “For any great creative, it’s a bit of a heartbreaking process. But you pick yourself up, and that fuels you and pushes you even harder to find a better solution and get back in front of those clients.”

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.