Wieden+Kennedy has many fine attributes but one it could probably do without is its revolving doors.
Clients come and the agency, more often than not, produces great work. Then a bewildering number of them depart.
This week and last in the US it’s lost Fiat/Chrysler, for whom it produced the Super Bowl epic ‘Imported from Detroit’ starring Eminem and now its New York outpost has lost Southern Comfort, of ‘Whatever’s Comfortable’ fame.
Now Fiat/Chrysler, like many car companies, seems to be all over the place with its marketing, preferring an ever-changing agency roster to continuity. You get the impression that disaster looms around the next corner, as has happened before with Chrysler.
In the case of Southern Comfort, owner Brown-Forman has sold the brand to an outfit called Sazerac, which makes something called Fireball cinnamon whisky, popular in shots apparently. Southern Comfort has cut back its advertising in the US anyway, so W+K may have other fish to fry. It recently parted ways with Heineken only to pick up Bud Light almost immediately. W+K still handles Brown-Forman’s Finlandia vodka, Maximus vodka and Chambord liqueur out of its London office – as far as we know.
Advertising does seem to be regarded as the icing on the top for many big companies these days: they’re delighted when they get a whizzbang campaign everybody talks about but not prepared to wait for the next one, with the chance of some duds in the middle. It’s easier to revert to other, more predictable options in the marketing toolbox.
In some ways W+K’s experience in the US mirrors that of BBH in the UK. Both agencies started at about the same time in the 1980s and for decades were flag bearers for brave, independent agencies. Both produced a series of brilliant campaigns but then, eventually, saw some of these lucky clients move on. Levi’s eventually departed BBH (it went to W+K in the US for a short time) and has hardly produced any advertising of note since. BBH has subsequently succumbed to Publicis Groupe, leaving W+K on its own at the head of a worryingly small group of noteworthy indie agencies.
Is the problem, though, that many clients don’t understand advertising and what a great campaign can do for them? There doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to this particular conundrum.