Agency of the decade: Wieden + Kennedy
As we wave goodbye to 2019 - and the 2010s - The Drum editorial team look back at the agencies, brands, people and campaigns that have proven that marketing can change the world. Here we present you with our agency of the decade, Wieden+Kennedy.
It could be the objective of any agency: make the ordinary seem extraordinary. Yet Wieden+Kennedy is one of the few that has managed to do it time and time again. Whether that’s anthropomorphic cats sprouting opposable thumbs in a bid to steal Cravendale milk or the modest home cook becoming a maestro of ingredients with the help of Lurpak butter, W+K seems endlessly capable of bringing a sense of magic to the everyday, of making the little things seem important. Working with brands that range from the humblest of household names to giants like Formula 1, it plays with scale across its entire portfolio, where nothing and nobody is too small to make a difference.
The agency kicked-off the decade with this ethos in mind. ‘Thank You, Mom,’ its ad for P&G at the 2010 Winter Olympics, put it to us that behind every great athlete is a supportive mother. The ad guided viewers through the small acts of motherhood, from washing dishes and clothes to standing at the sidelines in support, to show how they can result in the successes of young athletes. Using the tagline, ‘P&G, Proud Sponsors of Moms’, W+K reminded us that it is the small acts that mean everything.
As the decade progressed, W+K notably used the stuff of everyday as a device to talk about important issues, such as in 2016 when the agency used its campaign for Secret deodorant to make a stand for equal pay for women. The spot featured a young woman rehearsing a speech to her boss asking for a pay rise, and closed with the caption ‘At 3 o’clock, Lucy does her part to close the wage gap’. The ad’s endorsement that Secret is ‘stress-tested for women’ was a clever nod of acknowledgment to the daily struggles of the modern woman.
Of course, no summary of the last decade at the independent creative agency would be complete without mentioning its relationship with Nike. The match was made back in 1982 but has gone from strength to strength in recent years with highlights as bright as ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner,’ which paid homage to the city and its population. The ad celebrated everyone from sporting legends like Gareth Southgate to rappers Giggs and Skepta, to the local athletes who run from Zone 6 with their schoolbags or through Peckham at night – perfectly capturing the joy of when sport intersects with culture.
Yet the intersection of sport and culture is perhaps best exemplified in W+K’s jewel in the crown – the Nike ‘Just Do It’ campaigns. ‘Just Do It’ has been running as a campaign and strapline for over 30 years, but has evolved this decade into a platform for social commentary. The campaign’s emphasis on featuring athletes who have been vocal on social issues (such as LeBron James, the US women’s soccer team, Caster Semenya and Serena Williams) has received both praise and criticism, and never more so than in 2018 when the campaign celebrated its 30th anniversary with ‘Dream Crazy’ starring Colin Kaepernick.
The former NFL player became a polarizing figure after opting to kneel during the US national anthem in protest of racial injustice in the country. As such, Kaepernick’s presence in the ad received backlash from Donald Trump who called it ‘a terrible message,’ and saw consumers react on social media by posting videos of themselves burning their Nike products. Yet in the wake of ‘Dream Crazy’, Nike’s value rose by some $26m and W+K won an Emmy for its work. The ad’s strapline ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’ is a tribute to the power of the little things, where an act as small as taking a knee can have national political impact. How something so ordinary can be extraordinary.
In 2019, it was, of course, Nike’s work with the Fifa Women’s World Cup that really caught our attention and made sure W+K was never far from our thoughts as it elevated a sporting event into an unmissable cultural moment.
Before the tournament kicked-off, The Drum had asked when we would see the first truly big women’s football ad. Nike answered us with ‘Dream Further’ which can easily stand side-by-side with any of the great TV spots from the men’s game.
In it, a 10-year-old girl fantasizes about being an international football star. Showing off Nike’s first-ever kids football shirt designed specifically for girls, the protagonist is dragged into a high-octane clash between the sport’s elite and, in a fantasy soundtracked by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, we see prolific England player Alex Scott imagined as the first female manager of Barcelona FC’s men’s team and barking orders at Philippe Coutinho. It finishes with the strapline ‘Don’t change your dream. Change the World.’
Research shows Nike had a 51% share of brand social conversation around the tournament in France. But W+K’s work isn’t just building the Nike brand, it is elevating the sport. Do-gooding aside, there is a clear profit incentive to bringing a whole new generation of women into football when you sell football apparel. The campaign helped drive an immediate 7% sales jump, but this serves as a longer-term play.