Is Dan Wieden’s death the end of the golden era for creative agencies?

In the very early days of MAA we reported a confab at Cannes when the bosses of the big ad holding companies – Marin Sorrell at WPP, Maurice Levy at Publicis, John Wren at Omnicom and Michael Roth at Interpublic – were asked which company they’d most like to buy.

The answer was Wieden+Kennedy, the Portland-based creative network built by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy since 1982, initially and thereafter on the back of handily-located global client Nike. 1982 was also when Bartle Bogle Hegarty was formed, for many years W+K’s biggest rival in the creative stakes, now, though, owned by Publicis.

If you lined up the current bosses of those companies (Wren’s still there as is Levy in an upstairs role) one doubts that they’d choose W+K. More likely some “data-led” tech business you’ve probably never heard of.

But that’s how the ad world has changed and Dan Wieden’s just-announced death at the early age of 77 is surely the end of an era: one in which Sorrell’s WPP would pay $4.7bn for Y&R.

Wieden always batted off such overtures, reasoning that the nature of the agency would change irrevocably despite such riches; leaving the agency in trust (Kennedy died last year.)

Jay Chiat, a contemporary of Wieden’s once remarked: “How big can we get we get before we get bad?” Chiat Day eventually became part of Omnicom, now as TBWA/Chiat/Day. That happened to a degree to W+K although it remains proudly independent. Ads are a commercial business and you need to take on bigger and bigger accounts; in W+K’s case, latterly, the likes of Bud Light (boy, did it try hard), P&G (its “moms” Olympic ads) and Facebook (enough said.)

But it has had many moments over the years, Nike obviously and also a London outpost, helmed by Neil Christie with creatives Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth, which produced some of best ads from the capital since the halcyon days of CDP and BMP. It was MAA’s Agency of the Year twice.

And London:

The best? I always thought this Super Bowl effort for Chrysler combined inspiration (and sentiment) with commerce in a way that eluded most. Doubt that anyone would try it now although W+K has tried the epic route with Ford.

Let’s hope this isn’t the end of an era (numerous leaders have left the agency including Colleen DeCourcy and Christie) in which the very best creative agencies contributed to culture as well as commerce.

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