to start a shopper marketing division to be sure that Old Spice looks
great in Target. We just need to know how to be small enough, personable enough, passionate enough, communicative enough, and trusted
enough to protect that [core brand] idea through all those layers.”
Neal Arthur, managing director of W+K’s New York office, says that
the agency’s creatives aren’t versed in, say, the volume decline in Bud
Light sales. “Account and planning people are a bit closer, but even then
we ask them to have some separation. You need to be able to say, ‘I get
they want to talk about the Chrysler 200, but let’s be honest, it looks like
a rental car.’” This is not a random example: Such frankness may help
explain why W+K and Chrysler split up in 2016.
Sometimes that strong point of view “rubs clients the wrong way,”
says one senior big-agency exec who requested anonymity in discuss-
ing a rival, “but it’s probably the reason why their work hits more than it
misses. Most other work today is made to keep clients happy, and that’s
why most of it is forgettable.”
Wieden’s track record of ending dysfunctional partnerships has fur-
ther secured its reputation for toughness. In 2017, the agency split with
both ESPN and Verizon. The former was a 25-year client, for whom it
created the long-running “This Is SportsCenter” campaign, and the lat-
ter was a massively lucrative account. These decisions hit the agency’s
bottom line enough to force layoffs, but they were made to protect its culture.
“Without real independence, an agency can never truly be creatively led,” says
Bill Davenport, who worked for W+K for 28 years before joining Apple in 2014
to help develop the company’s internal production department. “[The] biggest
challenge is to protect the creative product.”
And sometimes the brands appreciate being stood up to. “They really push
us to take risks,” says Bud Light’s VP of marketing, Andy Goeler. “I love being
in that space of walking out of a creative meeting and having butterflies in my
stomach about what I just bought.”
Case in point: Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” ads. “You’ve got guys talking in Old Eng-
lish accents, reading the scripts, yelling ‘Dilly dilly!’ And I’m thinking, What are
these guys smoking?” says Goeler, who couldn’t quite picture the public’s response.
Since the campaign launched in August 2017, Goeler says that Bud Light’s
brand metrics and social mentions have been “staggering,” a pop-culture coup
that no Bud brand has pulled off since the “Whassup?” campaign t wo decades ago.
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intuit a truth about the brand, then figure out the best way to communicate that.
Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky signed with W+K in 2017. “What stood
out was how they really understood that Airbnb’s soul is in our host community,”
Chesky says. “The central message of their pitch was about how to bring out the
magic of travel through our hosts and enable them to realize their potential. It was
so compelling that I’ve saved that original pitch deck on my desktop and still turn
to it for inspiration.” The Airbnb ads will begin rolling out in the first half of 2019.
Ford recently awarded W+K a piece of its massive $4 billion annual advertising account because W+K “had a way of zeroing in on the brand voice and
not thinking about what the next campaign from Ford should be,” says Matt
VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing. “It was about the essence of who we
are and who we’ve always been. That’s what made us decide to work with them.”
The agency’s first ad for Ford debuted in October. It featured actor Bryan Cranston extolling the brand’s legacy and its renewed commitment to innovation.
The gist being, while many talk about the future, Ford is busy building for it.
Meanwhile, W+K has also been busy reshaping itself. The company expanded
its leadership team in 2016 from nine agency partners, based primarily in Portland and London, to a more diverse set of 24 stakeholders spread across the
agency’s seven locations around the world. Nearly 70% of department heads in
W+K’s Portland office are people of color or women.
DeCourcy says that in order to attract diverse emerging talent, W+K has
continued to expand the paid internship program that originated in its Am-
sterdam office. The current class of the six-month program is overwhelmingly
made up of women and people of color.
The agency is also fostering diversity
through different kinds of creative projects.
Last year, the agency launched On She Goes,
a digital travel platform aimed at and run by
women of color. It also helped one of W+K’s
former producers, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, get
her idea for a short film off the ground, and
that project eventually became the show
UnReal, which debuted on Lifetime in 2015 and
is now streaming its fourth season on Hulu.
DeCourcy is particularly focused on fixing one pernicious and systemic issue in
advertising: that credit too often rolls up overwhelmingly to a white male with a fancy title.
That’s why, at an all-company meeting in the
two-story atrium of W+K’s Portland office this
past November, she encourages the crowd of
agency staffers to put some questions to the
reporter who’s been lurking in the hallways
the past few days. Since every person in the
building is responsible for the work, every
person in the building should have the opportunity to inform the W+K story.
They talk about the state of the industry
and ad work they admire. For all its self-image as an outlier and band of creative
misfits, W+K is an agency awash in industry
accolades, most recently Adweek’s 2018 U.S.
Agency of the Year. DeCourcy says that while
peer recognition is nice and does serve a purpose, the real prize is GQ writing about KFC
swag, The New Yorker think-piecing the hell
out of the Nike Kaepernick ad, or Black-ish
star Jenifer Lewis rocking a Nike sweatshirt
at the Emmys and telling every reporter
along the red carpet that it was in support of
Kaepernick. To illustrate her point, DeCourcy
turns to the gathered staff and asks, “How
many people here can name what won the
Cannes Lions Grand Prix this year?”
“See? Zero shits given. All that matters is
“WE HAVE TWO FORMS OF
SAYS: WHETHER IT WAS A
GREAT IDEA AND WHETHER
PEOPLE CARED ABOUT
IT.“THAT’S OUR P&L.
VP, You Tube
78 FASTCOMPANY.COM FEBRUARY 2019