About six months ago Wieden + Kennedy London made a pitch against a number of agencies (including TBWA, Saatchi, Y&R) for the account to develop the communications to support Visa's FIFA World Cup sponsorship. This was a huge pitch, for a big client in a totally new sector for us. It had been an intensive process, with teams from all over the world contributing, and we thought we had done some great work. A few days later we got a call with some good news... and some bad news. We'd won the pitch but legal action by Mastercard (the incumbent sponsors) against FIFA (the body that runs the World Cup) meant that Visa's rights to the sponsorship had been challenged and so they couldn't award us the business. So we'd won the pitch but there was no business to award. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Well, we cried mostly. For the last six months the legal process has gone through the courts with hearings and appeals. To be honest, we'd kind of given up on hoping that it might ever be favourably resolved. Until suddenly and finally there has now been a settlement. Visa has been awarded the rights to take up the sponsorship. And with that came the news (see The Guardian) that our win had finally come to fruition. GOOOAAAALLLL! We're over the moon, John. Does this mean we get to go to the World Cup and call it working? I've been through some strange and surprising pitch processes but this is definitely the longest gap I've ever experienced between win and appointment.
Interview with our founder, Dan Wieden, in today's issue of The Independent:
Dan Wieden - 'The secret of my success is failure and uncertainty'
clients include Nike, Coca-Cola and Microsoft. His agency is a global
force. And yet Dan Wieden, the man who coined the phrase "Just Do It",
thrives on chaos. By Ian Burrel
Step into the
London offices of Wieden & Kennedy, one of the world's most
cutting- edge advertising agencies, and the first thing you see is a
mannequin in a pinstriped suit and buffed shoes, his head replaced with
a kitchen blender and the words "Walk In Stupid Every Morning"
inscribed in pink on his briefcase.
The building in
Spitalfields looks like it has been furnished by fictional Shoreditch
media upstart Nathan Barley (there is a table football game, drum kit
etc), after a trip to the West Coast of America (the office is
decorated with self-portraits of every member of staff). Other
weirdness includes a padded cell for creative thinking on the top floor
and a giant polystyrene statue called Nicola (made by the artist
embodies the chaotic creative spirit of the agency that Dan Wieden
founded with David Kennedy in Portland, Oregon, in 1982, but the motto
is just one of many slogans found in this strangest of workplaces.
"Fail harder" is another, "Welcome to Optimism" is another.
This is perhaps
understandable when slogans are your business and you have previously
come up with a line of such impact as Nike's "Just Do It", as Wieden
W&K has grown
with Nike, building one of the greatest global brands and at the same
time expanding its defiantly independent operation to New York, London,
Amsterdam, Tokyo and Shanghai.
This has been
W&K's extraordinary achievement, to maintain its reputation for
risky, left-field advertising (it was the world's most-awarded agency
in 2002) whilst maintaining a roster of clients that includes such
giant all-American brands as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Subaru and Miller
On a recent visit to
London, Wieden explains the DNA of his unique agency and what he makes
of the advertising industry's future.
W&K, he says,
still thrives on a culture "built around a friendly relationship with
chaos", a concept represented by Blender Man. "I think it's important
that if you're going to be innovative, that there's not a process for
everything. Sometimes it seems that if you're never lost you're never
going to wind up any place new. It's only if you're willing to be
completely fucked-up that you're going to do anything important," says
Wieden, who has a silver beard and a barking ringtone on his mobile
("I'm sorry, I keep a dog in my pocket...")
Yet W&K could
not have maintained long-standing relationships with such global
clients without a high degree of diligence with regard to the financial
side of the business. "There are parts of the agency that operate with
the precision of a German railroad," he says. "We try to be as old
fashioned as humanly possible when it comes to our books. The tracking
of projects, the planning and research is very traditional, very
with fellow Oregon company Nike has been fundamental. "We're here
because of Nike. They were a small shoe company and we were four people
trying to buy shoes for our kids. Because of our close relationship, I
think that there's many of the same gene pool, almost literally the
same gene pool, floating around both companies."
The familiarity and
success of the two businesses does not have to mean the advertising
work is predictable, Wieden claims. "Phil Knight (the Nike founder)
loves, and has always loved, to take risks, and he took risks with us.
That company continues to thrive on throwing out old ideas, embracing
new things and waiting to see what happens."
When Wieden looks
back at how that "Just Do It" end line came about, he admits it was
proposed as nothing more than a "connecting device" to link a group of
eight Nike television commercials. "I hated tag lines, we all did, I
thought they were dumb. So I wrote, like, six things. 'Just Do It' was
one of them. I showed it to some folks in the agency and they went 'Do
you think we need that goddamn thing?' " says Wieden, who decided the
line should remain. "We just typed it out on typewriters, then blew it
up, and put it on a board. It was not a big deal, seriously. Then when
it actually aired, it surprised everybody involved because it
apparently spoke some truth that was larger than sport or advertising.
There's no explaining that thing. Nobody understood that it was going
to take off like that."
W&K has been better known in the UK for its work with Honda, with
memorable campaigns such as "Cog", where the tiniest parts of a car
interact to set in motion a Honda Accord, and "Choir", in which a group
of singers voiced the sounds of driving a Honda Civic.
Despite some of the
hand-wringing within the advertising industry over a dearth of good
creative work, Wieden, sitting beneath a large "Welcome to Optimism"
banner, remains upbeat. "The industry is probably in the throes of its
most creative revolution in decades. The experimentation that's going
on is so widespread and so profound that I can't imagine being bored."
He is especially
thrilled by the "explosive, unpredictable" Chinese market, where
W&K opened an office two years ago. "There's just an incredible
vibrancy– it's just like unleashing a lot of fresh eyes on old problems," he says of the emerging Chinese advertising industry.
Wieden did not
immediately appreciate the importance of the interactive world of new
media and is now trying to make up for lost time. "To be honest, we
were very late getting into the interactive thing, but we are
headstrong about it now," he says. "I mean, we were playing around with
interactive, but we were not obsessed with it. We are now obsessed with
Like so many others,
he is not entirely clear "how we can keep doing what we are doing and
make as much money" in the digital arena, yet the chaos and uncertainty
appeals to him.
He says television work is being undermined in terms of finance and creative energy. "I'm not sure
television is where the most revolutionary work is taking place right
now. Production budgets have shrunk, which should not be a break on
creativity, but there's not as much psychic energy in television as
there is in the interactive space," he says. "But it's still an
incredibly magic medium that has the ability to engage you emotionally
in ways that few other mediums do. It's great for storytelling."
The independence of
W&K, rare in a world of advertising conglomerates, is an essential
part of its DNA. "David Kennedy and I are creative guys. We set out to
create a second-generation independent advertising agency that would
exist long after we were gone. We may have sacrificed a lot of
financial gain, but [independence] has allowed us to make decisions
more freely. We have the ability, when we don't see eye to eye with a
client, to say 'It's not working, what shall we do?' and not feel like
we have stockholders in the room making that decision for us."
Dan Wieden is an
influential man, named one of America's top 25 "most intriguing
entrepreneurs". But his success, he says, has come from not
compromising his creative instincts. "In this business, you follow one
of two masters: you either follow the muse or you follow the dollar..."
Here's a video of Honda's robot Asimo on stage at the Cannes Adertising awards on Saturday. Honda had been named 'Advertiser of the Year' so the little guy - who we featured in a campaign recently - came along to help celebrate the occasion. Weirdly enough, I still heard people whispering, 'Is it a kid in a suit?'
Saturday was the closing night of the Cannes Advertising Festival and huge crowds filled the streets and bars along the promenade. The Wieden + Kennedy team was there with our Honda UK clients, who won the title Advertiser of the Year. W+K worldwide had a pretty good night, picking up two gold lions for Nike 'I Feel Pretty'...
another gold for Coke 'video game'...
...and a silver for Coke 'Happiness Factory'. This last result was a bit of a disappointment for our guys, as the spot had been widely tipped in advance as a film Grand Prix contender.
Ultimately the jury narrowed the finalists down to
Dove and three other spots: Sony's "Paint," from Fallon, London;
Epuron's "Power of Wind," out of Nordpol & Hamburg; and and Nike's
"Pretty," from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., which earned an
additional Gold for best use of music.
Industry favorite "Happiness Factory" for Coca-Cola, created by
Wieden's Amsterdam office, earned only Silver, bested by Wieden,
Portland's Gold-winning Coke spot "Video Game."
"It's 2007, we've got the internet, cellphones, violent video games,
and they took this violent video game and transformed it into a
positive experience," Mr. Mroueh said. "The fact that they sold that to
Coca-Cola was monumental. For me 'Happiness Factory' is a great spot
and if there were a craft category, I would have awarded it a Grand
Prix for that. The animation is amazing, but at the end of the day,
that idea didn't feel worthy of a Gold."
The Festival is a huge affair, with thousands of delegates from all over the world - camera crews, journalists, clients, Al Gore, headhunters, glamorous production company girls in skimpy outfits, and lots and lots of crumpled, sweaty, pissed-up creatives. Everything is over-crowded and over-priced, the waiting staff at bars and restaurants are quite spectacularly slow and rude (so rude on a couple of occasions that it was actually quite funny, but the rudeness may be the result of a week of having to deal with drunk creative directors demanding another bottle of the rose) and it's all seemingly calculated to put you off the Cote d'Azur permanently.
If you come out of the ceremony clutching a Lion (award) you are besieged by paparazzi on the red carpet just like a proper celebrity at a film premiere.
Below - Dan Wieden flanked by Ken Keir and Ian Armstrong of Honda, after the awards event.
Honda had brought along a special guest to the ceremony - Asimo the robot - who came on stage to greet the audience. I shot some video of this which I'll try to upload onto here tomorrow. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any video of the fat bloke who ran onstage at one point and stripped off.
After the ceremony there was a big party on the beach for delegates with an unnecessarily loud and annoying covers band and the drinking went on all night.
Tony Davidson, startled by giant explosion of fireworks:
As I left to catch the early flight home on Sunday morning, there were still a few stragglers making their way home along the Croisette after a night of revelry.
You can get the full results on the official website and watch the main winners. If you feel that way inclined. Check out the Epuron 'Power of Wind' spot, which is great
Lou Arnold's baby Emilia arrived at 2:55pm on Sunday, weighing in at 5lbs 10oz. She wasn't due to arrive until 16th July, so that meant that Lou was working right up until the birth and didn't have any time to put her feet up before Emilia came into the world. That's the level of dedication we like to see!
It's that time of year again when the world's big networks gather together for a week of drinking, networking, squandering large amounts of money and more drinking - the Cannes Advertising Festival. Wieden + Kennedy will of course be there, along with everyone else. But we won't be on a giant yacht, watching the light dance on the Mediterranean, sitting on bar stools made out of whales' foreskins, drinking vintage champagne while supermodels rub soothing unction into our finely-muscled torsos. (Of course, some may say, if you're not going to do Cannes properly, then why do it at all?) Anyway, we're going along with our Honda client, who have picked up the Advertiser of the Year Award. If Creativity magazine (above) is to be believed, W+K may be up for a few other things. Among their tips (and these things are usually wrong) are Coke Happiness Factory for Film Grand Prix (W+K Amsterdam), plus a couple of other things we had a hand in, like Nike Run London for Integrated Campaign (W+K London, with AKQA). Who will be the real winners? (Other than the hoteliers and bar-owners of Cannes and its environs.) That's anyone's guess. Does it really matter? It does to those who win big.
Sad to say, Mel Myers is leaving our Portland office after 11 years to join The Talent Business. She sent an amazing email to say goodbye to everyone here. It's funny and inspiring and it reminded me, at the end of a difficult week, why I love working at this place. I asked her permission to reproduce the email here. For anyone who's ever wondered about what Wieden + Kennedy is like to work at, this will give you a pretty good idea.
Although there are
many of you in other offices, even Portland, I don't know, after writing
this email and being reminded of some of the history of W+K as I know it, I
thought it might be a good read. If you don't like to read, or don't give a fuck
who I am or what I think, feel free to delete it now and sorry to clog
up your Inbox.
It was a dark
and stormy morning July 1, 1996.
I started my
first day of work at this place called Wieden & Kennedy.
Regardless of my
Journalism major in college, I didn't know dick about advertising; I spent
more time supporting the bars and decorating the soles of my shoes with the
answers to the tests in a remote Texas college town. I like to think
that's where I began honing my survival skills.
I'd experienced the
Wieden studio during my first Portland job, where I managed a pre-press
service bureau in town. I'd get floppy disks marked RUSH JOB! from Michele
Lefore or Shari Borella or Wendy Martenson, I'd send them to an image
setter and deliver film and RC paper to W&K as fastasfuckingpossible. I
was intrigued because I thought they were much funnier and cooler and more
interesting than the drones with which I was sharing office cubicles and
attending Dale Carnegie classes with in order to win friends and influence
people. The studio once sent me a box of candy and a really nice thank
you note for all my hard work. Marni Bearsdley, then a traffic manager,
even signed the card.
I moved away, and
when I came back to Portland a year later I knew I wanted to be a part of
whatever that place was over there on 3rd & Washington, where all
the normal people worked. The Dekum Building.
My first interview,
I came in and taught a Quark class to the IT guys to see if my computer
knowledge was worthy of joining their department. It went great, until
the guy interviewing me was fired. A few weeks later, I met this girl named Jenni Hong
who was desperately trying to find an assistant for the CD's on Microsoft so she
wouldn't have to continue servicing them herself. So I dressed up in my
snappy brown pantsuit from J. Crew and interviewed with Bob Moore and
Michael Prieve, who somehow bought all my bullshit and hired me. I was ecstatic.
My second week
at W+K, I came in to a buzz of energy and posters plastered across the
Dekum building of Jeff Kling doing a stag-leap in the air in spandex
tights. The poster requested that the agency walk to Pioneer Square at
noon for a dance exhibition. Jeff had lost a bet to Anthony Sperduti, the name
of a song I think it was, and the loser had to dance in public.
The agency, and I mean the entire fucking agency, walked over there at noon and
formed a huge circle. No one realized there would also be a traveling Dutch
children's dance troupe, De Buddies, performing simultaneously in
clogs. Suddenly, Kling appeared, but he was on crutches. How could this be?
How was he going to dance? Powerful music began playing, Jeff raised his arms up
to the sky, the crutches fell and right there in front of our
eyes Dancy Prancerton was born. Then the cops showed up and told him if he
didn't stop, they'd take him to jail. For real.
What I remember most
about that day, I felt so unbelievably fucking lucky to work at this
place. There didn't seem to be any hierarchy. Every last person in the
building had a voice, a voice that mattered. No one gave a fuck about titles on
business cards or whether we won or even entered award shows or
how we were perceived by the industry. All anyone seemed to care about was doing
the most kick ass work they could and every creative/account
buying/AV/IT/PR/HR/proofreading/travel/recruiting person, assistants and
receptionists and the God's & Goddesses of the mail room were an
integral and respected part of this process.
And by kick ass
work, I mean Walt Stack. Heritage. If you let me play. Frozen Moment. Hello
World/Tiger Woods. Freestyle. Miller High Life. ESPN. Honda. In my humble
opinion, if I feel something every time I watch it, regardless of how
old it is, it transcends advertising.
I did the assistant
job for a year, until the day Michael Prieve pushed me to my
limit, asking me to research leather samples so he could have a custom dog
bed made for his Range Rover. It needed to be this certain color of gray because
it had had HAD to match and he couldn't take Anna's nails
scratching the leather interior any longer. I told him to fuck off, burst
into tears and started thinking about what other jobs I could do at this place I
thought I would never leave.
A week later, Beth
Anderson, the pioneer of creative recruiting at the agency, was moving to
Minneapolis and thought I'd be a good replacement, so I started recruiting
A year later, Mary
King, my boss, mentor and friend with a gold front tooth was getting the
absolute fuck out of Portland and heading back to her beloved NY. I was
honored to follow in her steps and I became the Creative Manager, with Dan
as my boss. I was petrified, perhaps because every time I had a
conversation with Dan I walked out feeling like a complete asshole. Usually
he'd just stop talking half way through a meeting and give me that
look that says nothing but, "What the mother fuck is wrong with you and when are
you going to shut up?"
What I realized
later is I needed to quit trying so hard to impress him. The more I just acted
like my normal, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, honest-even-if-it-gets-me-in-trouble
self, the better we got along.
It may have
been the Creative Retreat we had at Opal Creek in 1997, when I had a long
conversation with Dan by the campfire, that changed our awkward dynamic the
most. After singing songs around the fire at midnight, and
several passed bottles of straight bourbon, avoiding Rob Palmer
showing his dick to anyone who'd look and Jaime Barrett stripping down and
dancing in his boxers, I decided it would be a good idea to just go on over
and talk to Dan. For a long time. Hammered. With him sober. To this day, I have
no idea what I said. But the next morning, as we all watched Kevin Davis'
PowerPoint presentation on the importance of Internet advertising, we caught
eyes and both started laughing.
A good rule to
follow: Do not talk to Dan Wieden after you've had more than 2 drinks. He is
We won Miller High
Life, lost a chunk of Nike to Goodby, had layoffs, eventually got that Nike
business back, lost Microsoft, had more layoffs.
Stamps.com, Homegrocer.com, Evineyard.com, Gamers.com all came and
went swiftly.com. The nightmare of RoundTable Pizza & Miller Genuine Draft.
The AltaVista win!
The day John F.
Kennedy Jr. came to the office
Y2K and the move to
We lost Matt
Schekel, I will never forget that morning. One day you're here, one day you're
not. We lost Shelley Sippl, Steve Sandoz, Claire Grossman, Jack
Peng, Hawthorne Hunt.
Oh Hawth, I miss
you. I will never forget the day Hawthorne, who after her first round
of cancer treatments, popped her cheerful self into my office one day and
started drawing on the chalk wall in my old office in 4/SW. She drew
this amazing blue shoe, with what looked like her own leg attached to it. She
and I both colored it in and it stayed on the wall. That blue shoe now
hangs by the coffee bar. Please think of her vivacious, bubbly, stubborn,
goofball, energetic, child-like self every time you walk by it. She
was a gem.
Founders Day. Good
God these people know how to throw a fucking party.
My first one, I won
a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with Doug Stringer, Jennifer Howard and
K.P. Anderson. They gave away 15 trips, 4 people per trip, all over the
world. Even Belize and Tibet.
One year we had
teams participate in a scavenger hunt through Portland where one item was to
steal a manhole cover. That went over well with the City That Works.
the prom at Embers. I chose the Madonna/Bridezilla
outfit circa 1982. I fell dancing, cut my elbow open and Dan
Wieden was the only one sober, so he took me to the ER to get stitches. I
was mortified he had to wait for me, looking like my pimp in his prescription
For the 20th, we
flew Portland and New York to a remote desert site in Arizona. After driving
through a junk-yard in 98-degree busses, we arrived at Camp Dignity - a sea of
small tents we were to share in groups of three. David Kennedy said, "That must
have been some website." Jim Riswold, Bill Davenport and Ben Grylewicz were
immediately on their phones trying to order limos to pick them up. Their efforts
failed, and they were forced to stand, like everyone else, in a shit-filled
horse corral listening to Country-Western legend Jerry Jeff Walker. Luhr, please
explain to everyone who that is?
A reminder of
the 21st W+K/Portland anniversary is tattooed on my ass for
the rest of my life.
During my stay here, I got married, separated, back
together, had a baby, separated again, divorced and met the love of my life.
I learned what true friendship is from Michelle
Seely and Marni Beardsley.
I got to travel to New York,
London, Amsterdam, France, Tokyo and Thailand.
I had the privilege of
working directly with these amazing bitches: Tess Bethune, Alicia
Kuna, Regan DeKoning, Alicia McDaid, Allison Bick, Lauren Brogan now Ranke,
Stacy Grogan, Tanja Alger, Claire Reynolds, Kellie Pederson and Keith
White. What a wealth of humor and talent in that group.
and the people who have flowed through its veins the past eleven
years have given me more than I realized until writing this email. I've
learned so much about myself; What I'm good at, what I'm not. It has pointed me
to my strengths and opened my eyes to my weaknesses. I've learned how to
be resilient, not take shit off anyone or fear using my voice and most
importantly, being a part of W+K has taught me the kind of person I want to be.
If you can look yourself in the mirror every day and feel good about what
you see, you got it.
And now it's time to
move on and see what I can do outside this place.
It has been an
absolute honor to work and play here, and I'll miss being a part of it.