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TBWA is the youngest of the three global advertising networks within the Omnicom group. Despite its size, it is positioned as an alternative agency brand, with a reputation for quirky or "disruptive" marketing. It is best known for its work for keystone clients such as Absolut (until 2013), Nissan, Adidas and especially Apple, for whom it has created a series of iconic marketing campaigns stretching back more than 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 the TBWA network were its merger with US agency Chiat Day in 1995 and with Anglo-French network GGT BDDP three years later.
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TBWA retains a reputation for challenging or controversial creative work, although its output has in truth been considerably less disruptive in recent years than in the agency's mid 2000s heyday. It has a good geographic profile, but the agency's real strength is contributed by hubs in a few local markets, as well as a small group of brave multinational clients like Apple and Nissan who are prepared to take a few chances with their creative work.
TBWA defines its advertising approach under the umbrella of Disruption, a marketing concept first popularised in France by former CEO Jean-Marie Dru, now group chairman, and adopted by the whole network. In short it's the idea of finding strategic ideas which overturn existing conventions in the market. That may well have been an accurate description of some of the network's past work - for Skittles in the US, for example, or Sony Playstation in Europe, or even the Mac & PC ads for Apple. However the Skittles and Playstation accounts are no longer with the network, most of the Adidas account is also now handled by other agencies, and it would be hard to see how more recent incarnations of Apple's advertising could be described as "disruptive".
Another core strategic approach is to forge a close bond between creative and account planning under the banner of Media Arts, a concept originated for the Apple account and later rolled out to other clients. Both processes obviously work: in the 2000s TBWA featured regularly among the biggest award winners at international advertising festivals. During 2005, in particular, it won cupboards full of awards around the globe, and was the overall #1 most awarded agency worldwide. TBWA\Chiat\Day was honoured by Adweek with the title of Best US Agency that year, and TBWA\Paris was named Best Agency by French trade paper CB News. In 2009, TBWA was named Global Agency of the Year by both Ad Age and Adweek, mainly because of a series of account triumphs led by the Los Angeles office, while CEO Tom Carroll was Ad Age's Executive of the Year. It ended the decade as Advertising Age's network of the decade, not least as a result of the consistent excellence of its work for Apple.
More recently though, performance has weakened considerably, with significant client losses including the global Infiniti automobile business and Absolut vodka, and its share of the worldwide Visa and Mars accounts. In perhaps the most dramatic threat to TBWA's reputation, it came close to losing the hugely prestigious Apple account after apparently offending the client in the midst of its battles against rival Samsung. These multiple wobbles resulted in a management change in 2014, with the appointment of Omnicom troubleshooter Troy Ruhanen as CEO. A large amount of Apple's creative work is now developed by the tech giant's inhouse unit, though TBWA still keeps lead status. Ads are no longer credited to one or other so it's virtually impossible to tell how much is managed by Apple directly and how much by TBWA.
The agency has offices in 98 countries. Advertising Age estimated advertising revenues of $1.47bn in 2018. Key outposts include US agency TBWA\Chiat\Day; TBWA\Paris (the former BDDP), TBWA\Hunt Lascaris in South Africa and TBWA\Deutschland. However, TBWA\London, once another high flier within the network, has struggled with under-performance for several years. Combined revenues including marketing services subsidiaries and satellite agencies were estimated at $2.07bn.
Advertising Age estimated TBWA's US revenues at $363m (or 25% of worldwide revenues) in 2018. Key clients include Nissan and especially Apple, whose creative demands have grown dramatically in line with the explosive success of the iPhone. In North America, there are offices of the main TBWA\Chiat\Day advertising agency in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville (the latter serving Nissan). The San Francisco office closed at the beginning of 2007, and instead Cutwater was established as a new boutique agency, based around the talents of Chuck McBride, formerly executive creative director at TBWA\SF. The relationship didn't last long, and Cutwater severed ties with TBWA in 2011. The network also works closely with fellow Omnicom agency Zimmerman & Partners, which handles Nissan dealership advertising within the US as well as other accounts. In 2005, the agency acquired an entirely separate tourism agency also based in Florida, and coincidentally named The Zimmerman Agency. It now operates as TBWA\BrightRed. Agency 720 in Detroit is another dealership agency, working mostly with Chevrolet.
TBWA\Worldhealth was established in 2000 as the network's professional healthcare satellite. TBWA Media Arts Lab is a specialised unit handling marketing and media services for network client Apple. In 2012, the network launched management consultancy unit Disruption Works, which aims to apply the agency's Disruption strategy to a wider range of business issues and to clients of other creative agencies.
TBWA's operations in Canada were overhauled in 2015 with the merger of the existing office in Toronto into previously standalone unit Juniper Park (which itself had been aligned with sister network BBDO until earlier that same year). The combined unit now operates as Juniper Park\TBWA.
TBWA's media activities were finally fully integrated under the OMD umbrella in 2002, and the agency continues to work closely with sales promotion shop Integer. The group's digital offering has undergone a series of changes in recent years. Tequila Worldwide was established in the 2000s as the network's integrated marketing division, but has been steadily phased out since 2010, along with interactive agency Agency.com. Another satellite, Being, was created in New York in 2010, initially to handle snack accounts for Kraft. It was rolled out into other markets as well, with varied results. Several local offices of Tequila were absorbed into Being; others into Integer. Being had itself been more or less dismantled by 2017. In 2012, the group established TBWA Digital Arts Network, or TBWA\Dan, as the umbrella for its global digital offering. Luxury Arts is another specialised micro-network, headquartered in Paris but also active in selected global markets, to serve luxury clients.
TBWA\G1 is a worldwide joint venture with Japanese agency Hakuhodo to handle the global account for Nissan, one of TBWA's biggest clients by spend. In the US and other Western markets this operates as Nissan United. In 2006, TBWA expanded its relationship with its Japanese partner, agreeing to merge its existing TBWA\Japan office with G1 in Tokyo to form a new joint venture, TBWA\Hakuhodo, which handles other TBWA network clients including Adidas, as well as Nissan. Hakuhodo owns 60% of the merged shop, to Omnicom's 40%. Also part of the G1 joint venture is Creative Juice\G1 in Thailand, which established a global reputation during 2006 with a number of award-winning ads. Also in Asia, the group acquired full control of its Indian subsidiary in 2008; previously it was a joint venture with local partners. TBWA Korea is another important outpost, one of the top two or three Western-owned agencies in that market.
TBWA strengthened its position in Brazil in 2003 by taking a majority stake in Sao Paulo agency Grottera, which was merged into TBWA\Brazil. In 2007, the business was further enhanced by a merger with renowned independent agency Lew'Lara, run by Luiz Lara and Jaques Lewkowicz. The resulting business, in which TBWA has a minority stake, is now known as Lew'Lara\TBWA.
In early 2006, Omnicom acquired 180, the creative specialist which was then TBWA's partner on the worldwide Adidas account. The Dutch shop retains standalone status within the group. In 2008, a new shop was established in Amsterdam under the name Riot to manage global digital for Adidas. It is effectively a joint venture between TBWA and 180. TBWA Deutschland was strengthened in 2014 with the acquisition of admired local independent Heimat.
In 2001 TBWA acquired New York agency Weiss Stagliano & Partners and Ireland's O'Malley & Hogan, to form the core of a new branding consultancy network, Brand Architecture International. That business operated as an independent unit within the TBWA group for a while before fading away towards the end of the decade.
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.
Last full revision 20th October 2018
* Archive page for historical reference only. This profile is no longer being actively updated. See active page here *
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