TBWA Worldwide (US)
TBWA is the youngest of the three global advertising networks within the Omnicom group. It is positioned as an alternative agency brand, with a reputation for quirky or "disruptive" work. "Disruption" has indeed become the agency's over-riding concept, crystalising a process of challenging or overturning existing conventions about brand marketing in its creative work. TBWA is best known for its work for keystone clients such as Nissan, Absolut and especially Apple, for whom it has created a series of iconic marketing campaigns stretching back almost 30 years. First established in France in 1970, and acquired by Omnicom two decades later, the agency expanded rapidly during the 1990s to become a worthy partner to BBDO and DDB. Two key developments in the growth of TBWA were its merger with Los Angeles agency Chiat Day in 1995 - its US offices retain the TBWA Chiat Day name - and with Anglo-French network GGT BDDP three years later.
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Free to all users | see full profile for current activities: TBWA was formed in January 1970 by Bill Tragos, an American-born executive at Y&R's Paris office, together with three colleagues, Frenchman Claude Bonnange, Swiss-born Uli Wiesendanger and Italian Paolo Ajroldi. ''I think it's fair to say it's the only agency founded with four passports,'' Tragos later claimed. The partners set out to develop a European agency which operated in the aggressive and creative American style. By the late 1980s, Tragos had expanded TBWA's profile dramatically, opening a string of offices across Europe, as well as a small base in New York from the acquisition of two small creative shops, Baron Costello & Fine in 1977 and Flaherty & Co in 1981.
Primarily, though, the agency boasted that its growth had been entirely organic. "Built not bought", as Tragos put it. In the process, TBWA had attracted the attention of Omnicom, the recently created agency giant which owned the DDB and BBDO networks. The campaign which launched Absolut, a previously unknown Swedish vodka, garnered plaudits all over the world as one of the most innovative and creative campaigns of the decade. In 1990, Omnicom bought the fledgling network and supported further growth. This included the formation in 1992 of a joint venture with Japan's Hakuhodo, initially named TBWA\H, to handle part of the Nissan Motors European account. By 1995, TBWA had offices in 34 countries, the world's 14th largest agency, but still with a distinct international focus - only a quarter of revenues came from the US.
The answer lay with West Coast agency Chiat\Day. Founders Jay Chiat and Guy Day had each started their own creative agencies during the mid-1960s but joined forces in 1968 under the Chiat\Day name. (According to legend, they flipped a coin to decide who would be named president. Day lost the toss, and assumed the title, allowing Chiat the freedom to devote himself to creative work). By 1980, that shop had become one of the most admired in the US as a result of work for clients including Honda and Energizer batteries, for whom it created the Energizer battery bunny. However, Chiat\Day truly became the toast of the industry after launching Apple computers with Ridley Scott's celebrated "1984" ad. Ironically, that film was almost canned before it was ever shown. Commissioned to run during the 1984 Super Bowl, Apple's management team was horrified when it first saw the finished 60-second ad. Initial testing of the ad with consumers before it aired seemed to suggest it would flop and at the 11th hour Chiat\Day was instructed to pull the two slots booked and try to sell them to another advertiser. However, according to legend, Apple's semi-retired co-founder Steve Wozniak loved the film and volunteered to pay for half of the cost himself. The resulting ad defied market testing and was greeted with industry-wide acclaim. However, despite the enormous acclaim generated by the 1984 ad, the computer company moved its business two years later to BBDO, partly because Chiat didn't have an international network, but also because a follow-up commercial, Lemmings, really did turn out to be a flop with customers. Another star account, Nike, also moved on despite a stunning set of ads to promote its fast-expanding portfolio of sports celebrities endorsements.
Seeing the problems inherent in its US-centric positioning, Chiat\Day began exploring the possibility of international expansion later that decade. Talks were begun with BDDP and CDP of the UK, but stalled over terms. Finally, Chiat\Day agreed a deal at the end of the decade to acquire Australian creative boutique Mojo, which also had a small outpost in London. However the early 1990s were difficult for Chiat\Day. Its Australian and UK outposts both under-performed - neither was able to pick up the local portion of key US account Nissan - and leadership of the US agency suffered from friction between Jay Chiat's two most senior managers, creative director Lee Clow and account director Bob Wolf. (Guy Day had retired in 1986, and died in 2010). There were also account losses, including Reebok, picked up as a replacement for Nike in the late 1980s but finally lost in 1993.
Rumours of a sale of Chiat\Day began to circulate the same year. A major contributing factor was a fast-approaching deadline for repayment of a $50m refinancing bond taken out at the end of the 1980s. To raise cash, the Australian outpost of Mojo was sold to FCB in 1992 (it eventually ended up in Publicis as a result of those two group's acrimonious divorce), but talks to merge Chiat\Day with other independent agencies failed to reach agreement. Finally, in 1995, Chiat\Day secured a deal to sell out to Omnicom, just as its bond repayment fell due. The US shop was merged into the TBWA network. It was neat fit - TBWA already managed the Nissan Motors account worldwide outside Japan except in the US, where Chiat\Day held the account. Jay Chiat retired from the business and died in 2002.
The subsequent absorption of GGT and BDDP (see separate profiles) gave the new TBWA Worldwide entity billings of some $6.4bn by 1999. But the enlarged network also contained also numerous several differently branded agencies in different countries. A particular problem was London, where TBWA had already had to deal with fierce resistance to takeover from the UK arm of Chiat\Day, which instead broke away to become St Luke's. The first step towards consolidation of the UK portfolio was the merger of the GGT and TBWA London offices in 1998.
Also in 1998, TBWA took a 70% stake in Japanese agency Nippo, previously controlled by its client Nissan. Nippo was then the country's 16th biggest agency with billings of $311m. Just over a year later, as part of its continuing drive to capture a bigger slice of the Nissan business, TBWA proposed the extension of their European joint venture with Hakuhodo to cover the car company's global account. After months of negotiation, this was finally agreed in 2000, under the name \G1 Worldwide.
In late 2000, the agency formally adopted the TBWA\ brand worldwide, instructing all of its subsidiaries to change their names to the new format. The first to seize the opportunity was the UK office, which dropped its mouthful moniker of TBWA GGT Simon Palmer to become simply TBWA\London. Former GGT founder Mike Greenlees, previously worldwide president & CEO of TBWA, moved to a more senior role at Omnicom in early 2001, and was replaced by Jean-Marie Dru, previously president & CEO International.
In 2005, Dru was widely tipped to replace Alain de Pouzilhac as chairman & CEO of rival group Havas. Dru was strongly tempted, but after two weeks of press speculation as well as intense lobbying from TBWA and Omnicom colleagues, he declined the Havas offer. Also during 2005, the president of TBWA\New York, Shona Seifert, resigned after she was found guilty of conspiring to defraud the US government's ONDCP unit in her previous employment as president of Ogilvy & Mather in New York.
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