What’s in a name?

As a series of mergers have seen the demise of once-cherished names from agency and studio doors, we ask what legacy means in the industry today

When we think of legacy in advertising and design, thoughts often turn to the brands that have been created. But what about the agencies themselves and the heritage they leave behind?

There are many ‘legacy agencies’ so-called due to their scale and longevity and one thing they often have in common is that they’re named after the people who founded them. “Never underestimate the ego of advertising people,” says chief creative officer Nicholas Hulley at AMV BBDO, on why this approach was taken. “I suspect the justifications would’ve been different, though…. I would like to believe they were signalling that advertising sells the contents of people’s brains, and therefore it was important for people to know the brains they were buying.”

Michael Wolff, who founded design agency Wolff Olins in 1965 with Wally Olins but left the business in 1983, echoes Hulley in saying it was simply a “quest for fame”, and to imitate the architects they felt sounded more professional, in the decision to use their own names. “You had to use your name, otherwise people weren’t going to find you as they’d never heard of you,” he tells CR. “The fear of invisibility was quite strong.” Back then, Wolff says the idea and value of design was still a new concept, so it was about literally making a name for yourself in a fairly misunderstood industry.

New identities for Landor (top) and Wolff Olins (above), both designed in 2023