They started on April Fool's Day, with four people in the basement of a labor temple; you had to go down the hall to use the phone. "And the ads we typed on a borrowed typewriter," recalls David Kennedy. They had one thing going for them, though: a single client named Nike, a small running-shoe company that followed Dan Wieden and David Kennedy when they left their previous agency. "We did about one print ad a month in that first year and no television," says Wieden. "I didn't know much about advertising, but that was okay because Nike didn't want advertising, they were looking for something else. So it was a matter of trying to figure out what exactly we were
going to invent together."
The famous Lou Reed spot for Honda scooters, dreamed up by Jim Riswold about four years into the agency's existence. "It seemed like it was going to be a complete disaster," recalls Wieden about the grainy, cinéma vérité-style commercial. "Then it all came together in editing. We'd lost Nike to Chiat at that point in time, and the Honda commercial allowed us to get back in their good graces."
Subaru in the early 1990s. Not only did the agency lose the high-profile account, but the whole thing was chronicled in a book (Where the Suckers Moon, by Randall Rothenberg). "The worst part was closing the Philadelphia office," Wieden says. Even after the agency knew the account was lost, it took months to actually shut the office down because of contractual obligations, and "no one wanted to go into that place during that time."
Recent high points:
Nike's always been the strength of the agency, but recent work for Coca-Cola has been stellar, as has the London office's consistent game-changing work for Honda. (Full circle: From Honda scooters in the '80s to Honda cars today).
The present and beyond:
W+K has been coming on strong in the digital realm, though Wieden's still restless about it: "I like the direction we're moving but we can't get there fast enough for me." Asked about where W+K might be at 50, Wieden responds: "I'll be dead, but I just hope the agency is still independent. What we care most about is the power of the individual voice, free of conglomerates."
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