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 15th Mar 2018: Ads of the Week: "Only Slightly Exaggerated". The animators at prodco Psyop went the whole Miyazaki for this delightful film for tourism organisation Travel Oregon, conceived by homegrown superstars Wieden & Kennedy. And of course it's all true! More or less. Absolutely stunning. 

Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Mar 2018: Ads of the Week "Runways". Here's a fabulous new campaign for Delta Air Lines from regular agency Wieden & Kennedy New York. These ads are always good, often unexpectedly arty and off the wall, like the recent one that featured only the undercarriage view of a runway's white lines as a passenger jet speeds towards take-off. This one uses a similar runway concept but in quite a different way. It starts low-key but then builds slowly to a soaring climax. Superb use of unusual camera angles and the rising whine of that engine will definitely get your heart beating faster by the end of the ad. The simplest of ideas, but executed with great originality. 

Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Jan 2018: Ads of the Week: "Find Your Groove". Wieden & Kennedy gets playful for Nike's signature line for basketball star Kyrie Irving, in an ad which also stars and is directed by Kyrie Irving. The film serves as a promo for Kyrie's new team, the Boston Celtics. He wants to be the face of the Celtics, just like his former team-mate (and rival) LeBron James was the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Stepping out from LeBron's shadow, Irving makes for an even more engaging ambassador, so clearly he has a huge career ahead of him in sponsorship opportunities and personal appearances off the court; possibly in commercial direction too. That's definitely the way to go. US primetime ads are stuffed full of athlete endorsements these days. Most sportsmen now seem to spend more time selling other companies' products on TV than they do playing the sports that got them there.

Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Nov 2017: Ads of the Week: "Love Over Bias". Wieden & Kennedy works its customary magic in Procter & Gamble's superb opening salvo for sponsorship of the upcoming Winter Olympics. Once again, the ad focuses on the invaluable moral support offered to athletes by their moms, reprising the theme P&G has used since it launched this partnership in 2010. We'd argue that this ad may be the best yet in that series. W&K ticks all the necessary diversity boxes with subtlety and considerable emotional power. Indeed, if you can keep your eyes from watering by the end, then your heart is harder than ours here at Adbrands. 

Adbrands Weekly Update 19th Oct 2017: Ads of the Week: "Want It All". Here's a supercharged extended spot for Nike Basketball from - who else? - Wieden & Kennedy, charting the evolution of fictional superstar Dante Grand from the street court to the NBA championships. Nike's not so fictional endorsement partners LeBron James and Kevin Durant are along for the ride to add their authority. The resulting film is pure electricity: you won't be able to take your eyes from the screen for the full two minutes. As a side-note, the ad ties in with Nike's first season as official apparel provider to the NBA, taking over from former sponsor Adidas. However, it got off to a lousy start when - of all the possible players affected - top ambassador LeBron's Nike-made shirt ripped in half during the first game of the season.

Adbrands Weekly Update 12th October 2017: Ads of the Week: "Down But Not Out". So what ever happened to director Michael "Heat" Mann? It's all gone very quiet since his last two movies Public Enemies and Blackhat got a critical mauling. Well it seems he still has good friends at Nike, for whom he has made a few really great ads over the years. This latest, out of Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai and featuring boxer Rex Tso, is pretty good too, even if it doesn't match the football spots he made for the brand back in the 2000s. Revisit his classic Nike/NFL spot "Leave Nothing" over on our Facebook page.

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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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