Kruger moves its creative business to Broken Heart Love Affair

After working together on one of the standout creative efforts of 2020, Kruger Products has moved its entire advertising business to Broken Heart Love Affair, ending a 20-year relationship with John St.

While BHLA is barely a year old, Kruger has a longstanding association with its predecessor agency Republic, which had worked on Kruger’s environment brands. “This relationship with Republic started a few years ago. We enjoyed the experience and outcome,” said Susan Irving, chief marketing officer for Kruger Products.

But that relationship went to a new level last summer, after BHLA was asked to produce a masterbrand ad for Kruger in response to the shifting market dynamics caused by the pandemic. “COVID caused us to reframe our brand stance, and give it a refresh,” said Irving. “We saw this as a creative opportunity to take a different approach during this difficult time.”

The resulting ad, “Unapologetically Human,” avoided the typical tropes of toilet paper and tissue advertising, presenting a more realistic picture of the ways household paper products help clean up life’s little messes. “[T]he response was incredible, from employees to stakeholders, friends, family and customers—it was clear we struck a chord and resonated in a new purposeful way,” said Irving.

Kruger today announced its year-end results for 2020, a year which will be remembered for many things—including a reawakening of an apparently primal instinct to amass toilet paper. Kruger’s revenue was up 11.7% in 2020 to $1.5 billion, while earnings rose 36.4% to $197.8 million.

“‘Unapologetically Human’ tested above norms pre-testing and in post tracking beyond the worldwide PR praise and positive consumer, customer and colleague response,” said Irving. “This is a pride point for our organization.”

The success of that new approach convinced Kruger to adopt it, and the agency that created it, for all of its advertising going forward.

Asked if there was a review process, or if John St. was given a chance to defend, Irving said: “Both agencies put their best foot forward on several projects before a decision to move the business over to BHLA was reached.” (John St. did not respond to requests for comment.)

“This win is a very big deal for us,” said Beverley Hammond, BHLA’s chief business officer. The success of “Unapologetically Human” validated its ethos of transforming brands through big, bold creative ideas, she said.

“I think it serves as a proof point that Canadians are perhaps more open to real creativity than this industry gives them credit for,” she said. “Our model is founded in a belief that building your brand builds your business. ‘Unapologetically Human,’ and the business results that accrued, are a tremendous proof point for that.

“So, for all the talk of digital targeting and performance marketing in what is typically a low-engagement category, it proved that big brand TV advertising can build connections and move business.”

The separation from John St. ends one of Canada’s most successful and long-lasting agency relationships. Kruger’s previous CMO, Nancy Marcus, hired John St. soon after arriving at Kruger in 2001 to lead the company’s marketing as it launched a suite of new brands in Canada.

The partnership produced years of successful work that won awards and made Kruger brands Sponge, Cashmere and Scotties and Purex household names. Marcus retired from Kruger last March, with Irving succeeding her as a CMO.

Irving said the pandemic has changed “consumer behaviours and attitudes unlike anything recent generations of marketers have seen before.” And in response they are looking at the “positioning and tone” for their brands. But new work is also coming soon, she said.

“We have some new exciting creative coming at the end of the month.”

David Brown