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 8th Nov 2018: Ads Of The Week: "From Up Here". A break - thankfully! - from the Christmas overload, but even more topical in its own way. Delta Air Lines marks the midterm elections with this fine spot from Wieden & Kennedy addressing questions of division within America. Both conceptually and visually, it hits the ball out of the park. There is always something hypnotically fascinating about seeing our Earth from above, and this spot offers 60 seconds of pure wonder as well as an upbeat and inspiring voiceover. Gorgeous. To squeeze just one more Yuletide analogy out of the bag, neither the Democrats nor President Trump got quite the Christmas present they were hoping for this week, but this ad at least offers a prayer for a new season of togetherness and brotherly unity. Yeah, right! Dream on.

Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Oct 2018: Ads of the Week "The Future Is Built". The first fruits of the Ford review materialised this week with Wieden & Kennedy New York's debut for the brand. BBDO have the everyday main account, but W&K are signed up for special projects like this anthem spot, which champions Ford's long-established manufacturing credentials. It's a bit cheeky to suggest that it's only the other car companies that are betting on a future full of self-driving vehicles; that's actually Ford's vision too, and all those robot cars will need to be built by someone. Also, of course, Ford are arguably some way behind GM, for example, in terms of self-driving technology, so as much as anything else this ad is attempting to make a positive out of a negative. But still, it's a strong piece of film-making, with a resounding performance by Bryan Cranston in various hair and make-up-enhanced guises.

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Oct 2018: Ads Of The Week: "Ski / Garage". Chocolate and ultra-violence: they go together like, oh I don't know, fish and eggs or bacon and chips. Well, we have unusual tastes here at Adbrands. Wieden & Kennedy's Brazilian office launched a fabulous ad campaign earlier this year for Mondelez' chocolate snack Lacta, with superb animation from top local animation studio Lobo. The latest two spots take the ads' comic violence to wonderfully inventive new extremes to illustrate the explosive combination of biscuit, caramel and chocolate. Beware severed chocolate body parts and biscuity impalings.

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.

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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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