The relationship between brands and agencies

The relationship between brands and agencies

Behind every timeless brand campaign sits a tight collaboration between the brand and its creative agency partners. Every “Just Do It” slogan, every Coca-Cola Santa Claus, and every silhouetted dancer with an iPod is the result of that partnership between brand and agency. But that partnership has never felt more fragile than it does today.

In our recent report together with AdWeek on the Future of Creativity, we explored that relationship and how rising pressures, emerging technologies, and shifts in market focus have caused a strain to open up between brands and their agencies. The report dived into the subject of creativity, with an overwhelming number of respondents affirming that creativity is more important than ever before.

But how can creativity flourish in a brand house divided? We gave some of our colleagues the task of answering these questions and laying out a possible path toward reconciliation between marketers and agencies.

Creativity means risk, and brands hate risk

This Adweek report shows that many agencies and brands feel confident in their ability to deliver short-term results, but long-term brand building and creative big ideas are more difficult to produce.How do you think creativity factors into both of these strategies (short-term impact and long-term brand building)?

Digge Zetterberg: I mean, there’s just so much research and so much proof that creative advertising is more effective. So I think that creativity should be applied in both short-term and long-term marketing initiatives - and maybe public studies should remember this more often in general.

Anything that's deemed more creative will resonate more, and will stand out more. I mean, the whole point of marketing is to get people to recognize you and get a sense of who you are as a brand and create that emotional connection. And there are a number of ways that you do that; usually around evoking some sort of emotion a lot of time. It's either entertainment, or it's beautiful, or it's smart, or it's a combination of those things.

Creativity is being able to convey some sort of human aspect that resonates with people. So if you want to see results, you're going to have to incorporate it in everything you do, and I don't think it matters if it's short or long-term.

57% of agencies feel like their brand partners are too safe: Is that something you agree with, and what do you feel is the cause of that overcaution?

Digge Zetterberg: I mean, yes, I’d agree with that - because I'm also from the agency background! But I think in the past couple of years because there's been this “cancel culture,” a rise of - and blowback against - more purpose-driven type marketing initiatives, I think this has led to brands being more cautious - they're nervous to say or do something wrong. That, in turn, leads to being less inclined to take risks.

Also, creativity is harder to measure. Creativity is imagination, and you can’t measure imagination in the same way that you can measure strategy. So naturally, brands lean towards those elements that they can measure, predict, and control. But I do think that offers a false sense of security because there are so many other factors that heavily influence a brand that aren't measurable. You’ve got to take a little bit of risk in order to build a strong brand.

Resonance beats noise, but it‘s a team effort

Much of the report details the need for increased creativity and its impact on long-term brand building. How do brand builders need to develop or change in order to meet this rising demand for creative distinction?

Hugo Timm: The biggest risk is to fight noise with noise, equating more creativity with more intensity. This undersells the power of simple, effective, and meaningful initiatives that are concerned with resonance instead of volume.

When it comes to adapting to new ideas, technology, and trends, what is the responsibility of the brand, and what is the responsibility of the agency?

Hugo Timm: Historically, the onus has been more on the agency side, but today it's hard to draw a line. Brands and agencies are increasingly working in hybrid teams where the boundaries aren't so clear. The rise of the in-house team also has a big impact here, with much more crossover between the two sides.

Pressure will build, but there’s an outlet

Agencies and brands both agree on the rising need for creativity within marketing. However, many agencies (70%) feel rushed and hurried by their clients, with a large portion (66%) also feeling a lack of trust. How do you see this time pressure and doubt impact the agency-client relationship in the future?

Silvan Zingg: Well, honestly, I think the pressure will continue to grow.

Because brands no longer have the same long-term relationships with the agencies, they're looking for an immediate impact with what they do. It's the juxtaposition between the pressure of immediate impact and the desire to create something unique and distinctive, and this really challenges a lot of agencies to produce results constantly. This cycle of lack of trust leading to a short-term focus just repeats, making it harder for both sides to feel positive about the other.

On the other hand, the role of the agency is changing. It’s not enough to just be creative now - an agency has to really understand the industry in which their brand partners operate. They have to know the problems and challenges for their brand partners so that they can ensure that the ideas they have aren’t just creative; they’re also relevant and pertinent.

What steps are necessary for agencies and brands to repair that relationship?

Silvan Zingg: Brands need to go back to what's important. In the end, advertising and marketing is a people's game. The output and the strategy are important, for sure, but it’s about winning your audience’s trust, and that’s what agencies are geared toward. People remember creativity, and brands run the risk of driving creativity right out of the equation unless they can trust their agencies to take the necessary time.

In order to stand out nowadays, brands really need to push creativity in everything they do. Especially when it comes to AI: generative AI will only reinforce the need for human creativity as well. Because you need to do something that AI can't produce, which means you need to be creative in the short term as well as the long term.

In the end, it’s about finding a good mix of impactful smaller tasks and then mid- to long-term distinctiveness. We need to examine what makes a successful short-term impact - what allows something to stand out in the short term - and apply it to longer-term thinking. And vice versa. I know that’s quite blurry and holistic, but it’s how I see it!

Modern problems can be solved with modern solutions

All evidence points to the necessity to reinvigorate the brand-agency relationship. As a brand-building platform that enables a “safe space” for creativity, how can Frontify contribute to the conversation of this relationship?

Dominique Kunz: In times when brand and marketing budgets are tight, we notice teams looking for ways to streamline their processes without compromising on quality and consistency. Obviously, we're looking to support this shift by innovating together with our customers - how can we help them make even better use of their single source of brand truth.

How can brands and agencies utilize new technology like AI to support their marketing efforts?

Dominique Kunz: Actually, Frontify is adding a natural language assistant to our brand portals that helps users find and apply the relevant brand guidance to their specific problem. Through this, we’re looking to reduce the high number of small requests and questions that pile up in brand teams’ inboxes today so that they can focus on work that truly moves the needle.

But we also see potential to enhance processes that are on the other end of the creative spectrum. When we talk to creatives about their process, what we see is that every brilliant idea had many, many other ideas before it that were discarded but somehow contributed to that final product. With a brand-aware AI, we can offer another “creative faucet,” so to speak, to generate lots of ideas and variations as a stimulus to the process, all the while keeping the creativity within the bounds of the brand to help with consistency.