"In 1982, on April Fools day, it took $500 and a dollop of faith for Wieden to open his own agency with Kennedy"
(Lifetime achievement: Dan Wieden receives the Lion of St. Mark from Cannes Lions Chairman Terry Savage)
Dan Wieden has done pretty well for someone who didn’t take too kindly to advertising in his early years. The mind boggles to think that this creative legend tried everything in his power not to follow in his father’s footsteps, yet still managed to coin what Campaign called the best slogan in the 20th Century- Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.
Son of Duke Wieden, Chairman of the Gerber Advertising Agency in Portland, Wieden graduated from Oregon where he studied Journalism and Communications. He started off writing for trade magazines and at the age of 33 became copywriter at McCann Erickson. Here, Wieden was teamed with Art Director David Kennedy who also, rather paradoxically shared the same disliking for advertising. It took a few years but together they set about changing the face of communications as we know it.
In 1982, on April Fools day, it took $500 and a dollop of faith for Wieden to open his own agency with Kennedy, which would later become known as Wieden+Kennedy. Initially the pair didn’t have much luck in securing clients until Phil Knight decided to pop in. Knight worked in the same building as Wieden, running a start-up sportswear shop called Nike. Being rather blasé he introduced himself by saying “I’m Phil Knight. And I don’t believe in advertising.” At this stage, it would have been easy to tell Knight that he’d come to the wrong place but if that had happened there wouldn’t be a story tell.
Wieden and Nike were a surefire match and it all stared with the 3-word tagline, ‘Just Do It’. Creating a gem like this would have taken time, endless mind mapping sessions and all-nighters at the office…well not quite. More like a blend of creativity and chance, taking inspiration from serial killer Gary Gilmore’s last words ‘Let’s do it’ before being shot down in Utah, 1997. Quite chilling really.
But clearly something was working because in 2004 Wieden was named one of America’s 25 most intriguing entrepreneurs. Wieden wanted his company to radiate creativity as it grew larger and in the three decades from that April Fool’s Day in ‘82, the five-man agency with a shared pay phone down the hall had offices in Portland, New York, London, Amsterdam, Delhi, Shanghai, Tokyo and São Paulo with nearly 1,200 employees around the world.
In 2010, Wieden+Kennedy was chosen as Agency of the Year by Adweek, Ad Age, Campaign, Creativity and SHOOT. It was the first time in history that one agency swept the board. Dan’s vision of an independent, creatively led agency was truly making meaningful work for its clients. And profitable work at that, having increased its capitalized billings from $1.6 billion to $2.6 billion dollars working with a diverse client base among Coca-Cola, ESPN, Levi’s, Nike, KFC and Old Spice.
In 2012, in recognition of a career that had consistently set new creative benchmarks, Dan Wieden was awarded the prestigious Lion of St. Mark – the lifetime achievement award from Cannes Lions.
And Wieden is still going strong. 2017 may have just begun but for Portland’s Prince of advertising this year has already seen some great accomplishments. Secret Deodorant’s ‘Stress Tested For Fans’ went live on January 17 with a strong gender diversity message and at it will be interesting to see how well it performs in the new climate of awareness around gender representation.
Wieden+Kennedy has won a total of 303 awards at Cannes Lions since its first win in 1986. Browse more of their work on the Cannes Lions Archive, or check out What's On for the latest Festival news. Details of the 2017 Lion of St. Mark winner will be announced soon.