Wieden & Kennedy

Wieden & Kennedy : advertising & marketing profile

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Independent agency Wieden & Kennedy, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, has a reputation as one of North America's finest creative agencies, originally as a result of its superb work over the years for key client Nike. During the late 1990s, the agency opened a clutch of international offices but was initially hit by a series of staff problems, as well as fickle clients. It had recovered from these by 2002, and has steadily broadened its global reach, initially to service Nike but subsequently adding other global clients such as Heineken (until 2015, when bizarrely the account moved away despite a series of uniformly excellent ads). As a result, Wieden & Kennedy's reputation is arguably as strong in Europe as it is in the US. Its offices in Amsterdam and London rank among the region's most creative agencies. Showing no sign of slowing down, the agency scored numerous successes during 2010 including landmark campaigns for Nike and Old Spice, which became the year's most talked-about ads. It has maintained that momentum ever since with a series of high-profile ads for a broad portfolio of clients both big and small.

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Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 20th Sep 2018: Wieden & Kennedy named Colleen DeCourcy and Tom Blessington as global co-presidents, taking over from Dave Luhr. He and Susan Hoffman, previously co-chief creative officer, become global chairs alongside Dan Wieden. DeCourcy was previously Hoffman's partner as co-chief creative officer; Blessington returns to the agency after a period as head of brand for YouTube. At the same time, Neil Chrisitie relinquishes his global brief to focus once again on the UK market as CEO of W&K London.

Adbrands Weekly Update 6th Sep 2018: Ads Of The Week: "Unstoppable Together". Nike Women break free in this joyously chaotic spot from Wieden & Kennedy for the Mexican market. In La La Land, a traffic jam became the platform for a song and dance spectacular; here it offers the springboard for an equally explosive celebration of feminine exuberance, as a trio of Mexican teenagers are joined on their impromptu escape by a succession of local Latina sporting superstars including soccer player Nayeli Rangel, boxer Mariana Juarez, runner Paola Moran, gymnast Alexa Moreno, and basketballer Casandra Ascencio. This, incidentally, is the less controversial by far - but possibly the more entertaining - of two major new Nike spots out this week.

Adbrands Weekly Update 6th Sep 2018: Also this week, Nike stirred up a political row with a Labor Day holiday campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" slogan. The initial campaign - by Wieden & Kennedy of course - featured still images of several notable American athletes including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr. A two-minute film, 'Dream Crazy', followed yesterday. So far, so uncontroversial. However, also featured prominently in both the print campaign and the commercial is Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who opened a Pandora's Box of political controversy in 2016 by refusing to stand for the Star Spangled Banner before games in protest at police brutality against black Americans. His action was gradually adopted by other players, both black and white, many of whom took to one knee rather than stand, sparking a general furore that reached a crescendo when it was seized upon by Donald Trump. As a result, Kaepernick claims to have been pushed out of professional football for trouble-making - a lawsuit against is the NFL is underway - so Nike's decision to support him is certainly a bold one though also a commendable one. The tagline for the Kaepernick print ad runs "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." In these highly polarised time, many Americans agree, but many more apparently do not. Twitter has been aflame all week with protest tweets from angry self-proclaimed "patriots" who have chosen to ignore the original motivation for Kaepernick's protest and instead call for a boycott of Nike products for "disrespecting" the national anthem. Some posted images of themselves setting alight their Nike sneakers or ripping out the swoosh logo. Social-media monitoring firm Brandwatch says positive mentions of the Nike brand fell to 40%, down from 90% last week. Most sensible marketing commentators applauded Nike for taking a moral stand (as do we). You can't please everyone, so it's arguably better for companies to stand up for what they believe in, even if such free speech offends some of their customers. Coincidentally this week, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh penned an article for Forbes in support of stricter gun controls. "As business leaders with power in the public and political arenas," he said, "we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work. While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option." This same week, numerous liberal media personalities including Judd Apatow and Jimmy Fallon chose to boycott an upcoming seminar organised by The New Yorker magazine after it announced that it had invited arch-conservative Steve Bannon to be interviewed on-stage. So far, though, none of them has posted a pictures of themselves burning a copy of The New Yorker.

Adbrands Weekly Update 6th Sep 2018: With the global Ford marketing review still ongoing, Wieden & Kennedy moved into pole position with a project-based assignment that will run in the US in October. It would be W&K's first work for Ford, and the agency is one of the three networks currently competing for the full account against incumbent WPP GTB and another new challenger, BBDO. The Ford project was one of two significant wins this week for Wieden & Kennedy. The agency was also appointed to manage creative for Ikea in China, taking over from BBH.

Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Aug 2018: Ads of the Week "Awaken the Phantom". Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam is throwing literally everything *including* the kitchen sink at the screen for this extraordinary new campaign for Nike Football. Not just a big name movie director (Matthew Vaughn); not just all of its hottest endorsement partners (Neymar, Coutinho, Mal Pugh, De Bruyne etc etc); but also a hundred different scene set-ups and more special digital effects than your average Marvel movie. (Or at least that's what it feels like). And all for what is, after all, just a new football boot. Adidas may have more street cred in football (arguably), but Nike, this ad sets out to remind us, is still the guvnor when it comes to spectacle. You can't help but be impressed. 

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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: W+K played an enormous part in the transformation of Nike from sneaker brand to global cultural icon in the 1990s. The agency was formed in 1982 in Portland, Oregon, by McCann-Erickson staffers Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. The sportswear company was their first client, and it was Wieden himself who coined Nike's legendary "Just Do It" slogan. Initial spend was just $1.5m annually. But as Nike's success and marketing budget grew, so did the amount of creative work it demanded; by 1996, W+K was delivering as many as 60 or 70 creative executions a year for the company when most advertisers would settle for around 10. In 1994, fast-expanding Microsoft picked W+K to create the ad campaign for Windows 95, which went on to become one of the most successful software launches ever. 

The agency was famed for its obsessive approach to business. The company slogan was "The work comes first", and creatives were renowned for occasionally getting involved in shouting matches with clients who didn't sufficiently appreciate their work. This idiosyncratic approach seemed justified as W+K's ads propelled its clients into the upper reaches of corporate America. But as they got bigger, the clients began to experience their own shift in priorities. The passion still championed by W+K was less important than hitting quarterly sales targets, especially when all that meteoric growth began to plateau. Always a tough client, Microsoft became even more demanding, specifying endless revisions and insisting on an adherence to deadlines which didn't really sit with the agency's loose way of working.

There were also strains on the relationship with Nike. At the end of the decade Nike, along with all trainer manufacturers, began to see sales fall. Meanwhile after a long series of ads shot by film director Spike Lee and starring Michael Jordan (a campaign known in the industry as Spike and Mike for Nike), the agency had to find ways of doing Spike for Nike without Mike, because the basketball-turned-baseball superstar was no longer playing. In 1998, the sportswear company moved around a third of the account to rival agency Goodby Silverstein, and was said to have threatened a full account move unless W+K strengthened its presence in Europe.

W+K had opened an office in the Netherlands to service Nike at the start of the decade. Mid-1998 this team picked up a $35m account for merged German bank HypoVereinsbank. But a few weeks later a scandal erupted when it was alleged that three agency employees were working on a pitch for Nike's arch rival Adidas. (The staff members in question were dismissed, but later cleared of any wrongdoing. They set up on their own as 180 Amsterdam.

All in all 1998 was not a good year. Reduced spend from Nike, as well as a shift of part of the account to rival Goodby Silverstein, knocked billings down to $800m, from a high of $875m in 1997. The agency laid off around 10% of staff. Meanwhile it had to work even harder to service Microsoft, embroiled in the first stages of its run-in with the US government over Netscape and other anti-trust issues. Some welcome good news came in the shape of the Diet Coke account, worth around $60m. But 1999 threatened to turn out even worse after Microsoft moved its entire account to McCann-Erickson. A month later Miller Brewing moved its Miller Genuine Draft account as well. After a mammoth effort, W+K won back the Goodby Silverstein portion of the Nike account at the end of the year.

Since then W+K's fortunes have remained volatile. In 2001, the agency's London office finally hit its stride, winning the prestigious Honda account in the UK. A few months later, however, the US agency was virtually booted off the prestigious Coca-Cola roster, losing all but the Powerade brand. US billings continued to tumble and W+K slipped out of the magic Top 50 in Advertising Age's US agency rankings for the year. Even so, the agency vowed it would not succumb to the temptation to sell out in order to win additional business, and clawed its way back into the 50 for 2002 and 2003. Performance has steadily continued to improve. In 2005, Wieden Kennedy achieved two major new business wins, taking clawing its way onto the Procter & Gamble roster for the first time, but more significantly taking control of the North American Classic Coke account, worth an estimated $150m in billings. At the same time however, the agency has struggled to keep other clients entirely satisfied, especially its demanding flagship account Nike. In 2007, the sports shoe giant transferred part of its creative business out of W+K and into Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Just over a year later, in June 2008, that decision was revered and the whole account was consolidated once again in W+K. See full profile for current activities

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