DDB’s Wendy Clark aims to recapture creative glory days with new CCO Ari Weiss

DDB is finally looking interesting after years of playing second fiddle to Omnicom’s biggest network BBDO. Aside from its stand-out UK performer adam&eveDDB (which may be morphing into an international brand, it’s opening in the US to handle Samsung) the network, synonymous with creativity in its early days as Doyle Dane Bernbach, has definitely stepped up a gear under newish North America CEO Wendy Clark, a former top marketer at Coca-Cola.

Now Clark has hired former BBH New York CCO Ari Weiss as the agency’s first North America CCO. DDB’s global CCO is the combative Amir Kassei.

Clark told Ad Age: “We weren’t looking for a figurehead. This is a hard-working role. If you look at DDB’s 66-year-legacy, it’s best, brightest and most prosperous years were when creative leadership was strong.”

“One of the things we talked about is Ari’s ambition, and certainly mine, to drive creativity at the highest level on very big, muscular, large-scale brands. It’s easier to do on smaller, niche, less bureaucratic and complex brands. The real potential is to do beautiful work at scale.”

Which is straight out of the adam&eve songbook, of course.

Weiss says: “I am a huge advertising nerd. And you can’t be a huge advertising nerd without worshiping Bill Bernbach. He was the original creative renegade. He wasn’t a renegade because he wanted to be different; he was a renegade because he knew difference would drive business growth. That kind of bravery is in DDB’s bones. You pair that with the incredible momentum Wendy and her team have built in the last year and you’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime.”

In her year in charge Clark has overseen a number of successes, most notably DDB’s new operation We Are Unlimited landing the US McDonald’s account. McDonald’s seems to want unlimited content, quicker and cheaper, so this seemed at odds with DDB’s heritage. But all big agencies (and networks) are department stores to a degree.

Holding company-owned networks are suffering something of an identity crisis at the moment with many people forecasting that, eventually, they’ll be centralised operationally as well as financially under the holding company. Maybe with different name plates. French-owned networks Publicis Groupe and Havas (which is rather smaller) have moved some way towards this; Publicis with its Publicis Communications restructuring and Havas with its centralised Havas “villages.”

Clark and, presumably, Omnicom seem to take a different view. She’s undoubtedly right to think that big brand creativity is the key to such independence.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.