Wunderman is among the world's best-known marketing services brands, with a particular strength in customer relationship marketing, combining traditional direct marketing and sales promotion skills with cutting-edge digital and social media, ecommerce and, increasingly, more general business consultancy. Wunderman has become one of the main counterpoints within WPP to marketing-oriented business consultancies such as Accenture. During the 2000s the agency significantly expanded its interactive offering with a series of purchases of independent agencies around the globe, creating what is arguably now the world's biggest digital network. Wunderman has a very strong global footprint, with leading positions in Asia and Latin America as well as more established US and European markets. Formerly known as Wunderman Cato Johnson, the agency had a moment of madness in 1999 when it attempted to reinvent itself as a digital marketing group under a completely new name of Impiric. Two disappointing years followed before the company readopted, but shortened, its original name. Now part of the WPP portfolio, Wunderman operates as the largest individual unit of the Young & Rubicam marketing group. In a startling realignment announced at the end of 2018, Wunderman is to merge with sister agency J Walter Thompson to form new integrated agency Wunderman Thompson.
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Adbrands Daily Update 11th Jan 2019: Industry pioneer Lester Wunderman died this week at the age of 98. He was one of the last survivors from the so-called "Golden Age" of marketing, and one of the few still to have a global network named after them (even if that network became Wunderman Thompson rather than plain Wunderman at the end of 2018). Wunderman is widely considered to be the father of modern direct marketing industry, responsible for such widely adopted conventions as 1-800 freephone numbers and magazine subscription inserts.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Nov 2018: Another legendary agency brand took one step closer to extinction with WPP's announcement of the merger of iconic giant J Walter Thompson with Wunderman. The latter network gets top billing in the new entity, which will be known as Wunderman Thompson. Wunderman's newly appointed global CEO Mel Edwards retains that role in the enlarged business, with JWT's Tamara Ingram moving to global chairman. It follows a string of other such combinations within WPP, most notably the takeover by VML of Y&R. WPP aims to complete the merger by early 2019. "Wunderman Thompson is a formidable combination," said WPP CEO Mark Read, "bringing together the capabilities our clients are demanding – award-winning creativity alongside deep expertise in technology, data and commerce – in a single organisation. Clients want greater simplicity from their partners and this development, like others at WPP, is designed to reshape our company around their needs."
Adbrands Weekly Update 6th Jul 2017: WPP appears to be looking at other ways to streamline operations following the merger of MEC and Maxus to create a still as yet unnamed new media network. The WSJ reports today that the group's Possible digital network is set to be absorbed into Wunderman. WPP declined to comment; the WSJ attributes the report to "people familiar with the matter". Separately, South Africa's Telkom, the leading local phone company, this week appointed Wunderman as its lead creative and digital agency.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Jun 2017: WPP's standalone ecommerce agency Salmon is to be transferred into Wunderman as the cornerstone of a new Wunderman Commerce division.
Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Sept 2015: In a surprise defection, Ian Haworth, global chief creative officer of Omnicom's Rapp network, has jumped ship to become executive creative director for Wunderman EMEA. His move comes amid the wholescale dismantling of the Rapp network, the bulk of which is being split off as separate network Track.
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Free to all users | see full profile for current activities: The company was established in 1992 in a merger of Cato Johnson Sales Promotion and Wunderman Worldwide Direct Marketing. Wunderman started life in 1958 as Wunderman Ricotta Kline, founded by Lester Wunderman and his brother Irving, along with Ed Ricotta and Harry Kline. The agency quickly became one of the leading US mail order and coupon marketing agencies, attracting Columbia Record Club and Time-Life Books as its first clients. Breaking the mould of the traditional advertising model, Wunderman turned the process around to put the consumer first in the marketing chain: "The consumer, not the product, must be the hero". In 1967 he invented the term "direct marketing" to describe this method, expounding upon his ideas in a seminal speech at New York's MIT. The agency gradually extended its reach, opening offices in Canada, the UK and France.
In 1973, Wunderman Ricotta Kline was acquired by Young & Rubicam. Three years later it was joined in the Y&R portfolio by Cato Johnson, founded by Mac Cato and John Johnson in 1959. For almost the next 20 years the two companies worked alongside each other as divisions of Y&R. In recognition of its network, by now established around the globe, Wunderman Ricotta Kline became Wunderman Worldwide in 1987, and was granted standalone status in the Young & Rubicam organisation in 1990. In 1992, it absorbed Cato Johnson, changing its name again to Wunderman Cato Johnson, now providing a broad range of sales promotion, direct marketing, database management and other services to clients.
Increasingly, however, Y&R saw a need to boost the nature of the agency's offering, as management consultancies began to make inroads into the traditional marketing sector. In 1997, Y&R and WCJ launched Brand Dialogue, an interactive strategy consultancy. The following year, the group acquired Capital Consulting and Research (CCR), a consulting service for professional service firms, financial institutions, and technology, consumer and industrial organizations. This business had been founded in 1986 by Jay Bingle, and the two companies already shared several clients, including AT&T, IBM and Xerox. Earlier in 1998, Bingle had agreed to sell his firm to digital marketing services company CKS, but that deal fell apart at the negotiating table. (CKS acquired USWeb instead, before becoming part of ill-fated marchFirst).
Controversially, Bingle was also handed control of Wunderman Cato Johnson, and he began a complete revamp of the business, moving it to focus exclusively on data-based customer relationship management, instead of the broader remit of traditional direct marketing and sales promotion. That same year, Lester Wunderman officially retired from the business, aged 77. In 1999, WCJ began a major restructuring programme, intended to boost its growth and transform the business. A number of worldwide offices were closed or merged, new offices were opened in new territories and new executive management drafted in. A key step was Y&R's acquisition of Knowledgebase Marketing.
Inevitably, given the prevailing mood of the market in 1999, the newly revamped group was strongly targeted towards online relationships. It formed strategic alliances with two internet marketing companies, EchoMail and Digital Impact, and launched a separate research and development arm under the name The Marketing Lab. In 2000, the same year that Y&R was itself acquired by WPP, Knowledgebase and CCR were merged into WCJ, and the whole organisation rebranded under a new name, Impiric. (This was not the first choice. Bingle originally tried to persuade Y&R's board to rebrand Wunderman Cato Johnson as Ology. That name was rejected by Y&R CEO Ed Vick). The revamp proved a disastrous mistake. Many in the industry were shocked by the decision to drop the near-legendary Wunderman name, itself synonymous with below-the-line marketing. Former WCJ managers were uneasy with the company's new direction; more importantly, so were clients. Impiric lost two major accounts during 2000, H&R Block and the US Army, and although the agency posted good growth figures that year, it was overtaken in US business by rival Draft Worldwide. Later, Y&R announced that Jay Bingle would be leaving the company by year-end.
In early 2001, a replacement was announced: Daniel Morel, former CEO of Euro RSCG's global marketing services group The Sales Machine. Steeped in traditional marketing services, he acted quickly to guide Impiric back into more traditional areas of direct marketing, while also retaining the strong focus on CRM. One of his first steps was to dispense with the Impiric name, rebranding the agency (for the second time in two years) as Wunderman. See full profile for current activities
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