Wieden + Kennedy turns 25 this year. The advertising agency that began as a lone outpost in Portland, Oregon has now spread across three continents and garnered shelves full of awards. Here, we pick out ten things that set it apart

Wieden + Kennedy London’s ongoing campaign for Honda, Power of Dreams, barely needs any introduction. With ads including Cog, Grrr, Choir and Impossible Dream, it has raised debate and awe in equal measure in ad land since the agency began working with the brand in 2002. So perhaps it’s best simply to give some hard facts: in the past five years, sales of Honda cars are up 55%. Ad awareness is ahead of rivals VW and Toyota on a fraction of their spend, and the campaign has delivered over £400m in incremental sales revenue. And then there are the awards… Cog alone has picked up over 30 awards worldwide, including golds at Cannes, Kinsale, the Creative Circle Awards, BTAA, The One Show, the Clios, as well as three Yellow Pencils at D&AD. The power of dreams, indeed.


Over ten years ago, Wieden + Kennedy launched Wieden + Kennedy Entertainment, a division of the agency that aims to “give our creative people opportunities in film, publishing, and other fine arts,” according to Dan Wieden. The company has so far created original content including Battlegrounds, a series for MTV2 on street basketball, and Ginga, a documentary about Brazilian football players. Perhaps its most famous offering however, is Road to Paris, a documentary following cyclist Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Team over 27 days in April 2001, as they prepare to win a third consecutive Tour de France. The film offers a rare glimpse into the world of professional cycling, taking viewers inside team meetings and following Armstrong on reconnaissance rides in the Alps, as well as documenting some of cycling’s most exciting races.


In 2003, Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo launched TokyoLab, a record label that mixes music with visuals, with all CDs released being accompanied by a DVD of music videos for each song. “TokyoLab came as an idea from John Jay and myself,” explains W+K Tokyo art director Eric Cruz. “We were doing a lot of client-based work, mainly for Nike, where we were collaborating a lot with local DJs, musicians, animators, and putting them all together. We were very connected to youth culture, through Nike frankly, and a lot of record labels started taking notice of what we were doing, but Nike owned the rights.”

Jay and Cruz then developed the idea of launching their own label, but with a twist. “We approached it from the idea of a hybrid CD and DVD experience,” continues Cruz. “It’s aimed at the post-80s generation, who don’t distinguish between music and visuals because they grew up in the MTV era. We specifically set out to release bands and acts that have a visual component to them – we’re trying to reinvent the music industry by creating a brand new experience.”

TokyoLab is a labour of love for those involved, and is run by a small group of people at the agency who work on it alongside their usual client work – “We thought it would be a way for people at Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo to create work beyond their client-based work and beyond advertising,” says Cruz. The label has four artists signed to it, and has released eight albums so far. www.wktokyolab.com


In 1996, with Nike having built good associations with some of the world’s greatest basketball players, runners and tennis stars, Wieden + Kennedy tackled football, at that time a territory dominated by adidas. The result was Good vs. Evil, where a team of all-star players faced off an opposing team of demons. “Glenn [Cole] and I couldn’t believe that the all-star team concept – a very American idea – didn’t exist in European football,” explains Jelly Helm, creative on the spot. “We had seen the ’92 Dream Team play in Portland, the team with Jordan, Bird, Magic etc – and we knew if we could assemble a team of all the awesome Nike footballers, European kids would fucking freak out.”

“At the time, it was the most expensive Nike commercial ever. We talked to all the best directors and Tarsem was the only one who insisted creating the thing in camera, not at a special effects house. Sounded right to us. We spent 14 days shooting in a Roman coliseum in Tunisia, using locals as extras. The bottom of the coliseum still smelled like the animals that had been kept down there almost 2000 years ago. The historian told us that in the old days they used to light the stadium by tying slaves to posts, dipping them in tar and lighting them on fire. It was a heavy place. The pressure was enormous.” The gamble paid off though and a formula for football ads that remains the template today was born.


Formed in 2003, WK12 is an advertising school that lets 12 (ish, this year it’s 13) lucky applicants spend a year working and learning in Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland office. “WK12 started because Dan is interested in finding things that are unique within the industry, and a school was always his dream,” explains creative director Susan Hoffmann, who runs the school alongside Byron Oshiro and Kerry Bronstein. “The idea is to be wildly creative.”

Each set of students begin working at the agency on Wieden + Kennedy’s Founders Day, 1 April, and spend the year working closely together. “The aim is for them to understand how collaboration and teamwork works,” Hoffmann continues. “It teaches them to put their egos in check.” The students come to the school from a variety of backgrounds, with this year’s class including writers, fine artists and a performance artist. The course itself has a lab feel, with the students spending each month in a different area of the agency so they gain hands-on experience.

While Wieden + Kennedy makes it clear from the outset that the school is not a guaranteed route to working at the agency, about 30% of people over the past three years have gone on to be hired. “We make it really clear that that’s not the proper goal though,” says Hoffmann. “They are there to figure out how to be really creative and to figure out what they want to do in the world.” www.wk12.com


Since 1991 Wieden + Kennedy in Portland has worked in partnership with the American Indian College Fund to create promotional work, which is mostly pro bono, for the organisation. The AICF provides scholarships and other support for 32 national tribal colleges and universities, making it the largest provider of private scholarships to American Indians in the country. Through the programme they offer accredited degrees while keeping Indian culture and tradition at the heart of their curriculum, and with tribal colleges receiving little or no local or state tax support, corporate, foundation and private donations are crucial. The agency’s most recent work for AICF is the If I Stay On The Rez campaign, shown left, which has featured in the New York Times Magazine, Oprah and Time.

In addition to the work with AICF, Dan Wieden is founder and chairman of Caldera, a non-profit arts education organisation that aims to foster creativity amongst underprivileged young people and adults.Wieden founded Caldera in 1996 with his wife Bonnie, setting up programmes in schools and community centres throughout Portland and Central Oregon and at Caldera’s Blue Lake facility in the Oregon Cascades. In winter months the facility is also used as an artist’s retreat. Caldera currently reaches over 10,000 students per year.


Just Do It is one of those slogans that is so familiar that it feels as if it has been with us since the dawn of advertising, yet in fact it first appeared in a Nike ad in 1988. Its first airing was on the Bo Knows X-training campaign, where Bo Jackson, a young athlete who played both baseball and football, became the face of Nike cross-training. It then quickly became the Nike tag. “The creative department was frantically racing to pull the ’88 Nike ad campaign together for presentation the next morning,” explains Dan Wieden on the moment that inspiration struck. “We had maybe eight or ten actual spots that, to me anyway, seemed pretty disconnected in tone and style. While none of us believed in the use of taglines back then, I worried that the work needed to be stitched together in a more direct fashion. So I turned on my Selectric typewriter and jotted down five or six possible taglines, one of which was DO IT. That seemed a bit didactic so I added JUST. Not really the stuff of legend – in fact, when I showed it to the others, they said, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever, boss’ and hurried off. The client was just about as enthused. Which didn’t upset me in the least because it seemed more of a strategic need than a creative thought. But it struck a nerve out there.”


Not content with conquering the worlds of advertising, television and music, with W10K Wieden + Kennedy is now beginning to dabble in product design. “A while ago, the creative team Ben Walker and Matt Gooden won £10K for Cog at the Grandy Awards,” says Emma Trotman, organiser of the project, which is run out of the London office. “They were allowed to invest it in whatever they liked as long as it benefited the agency in some way. They decided they were interested in product design and called in the experts – Bucks College second year contemporary furniture design students – for help. We had to create something we could sell, make back the £10K and continue to reinvest.”

“After a briefing and spending some time in the agency, the students came back with four product areas they felt reflected the place. First was a range of tea items, due to the prodigious amount of tea drinking they witnessed. Another challenged social inhibitions and allowed adults to behave like kids. A third’s theme was takeaway; we’re surrounded by them here. Last were subverted weights and measurements as they felt we were a pretty random bunch.”

Eight products were then made and then displayed at 100% East, held at the Truman Brewery in London. Vistiors were asked to vote for their favourite product and six products are currently being taken to market. These include a cake stand by Madelene Bjork which suggests a way of cutting a cake into eight seemingly different slices that are in fact all the same quantity, a chocolate mug by Jessica Scarboro, Horticutlery cutlery set by Lee Kirkbride, a Teat Jug by Nicholas Etteridge that squeezes out just the right amount of milk for a cup of tea, a set of china handles by Erin Shadbolt that add a touch of class to a disposable cup, and Musical Wine Glasses by Sian Mark which produce different musical notes when filled to the required level. www.w10k.com .


WK Side
Always looking for ways to find fresh talent and new ideas, Wieden + Kennedy London has launched WK Side, now in its third season. The project is a talent scheme that allows four people from outside the advertising world the chance to become part of Wieden + Kennedy London for three months. “WK Side is our way of opening up advertising,” says creative director Tony Davidson. “Because we feel that the best advertising agencies aren’t just staffed with people who only know advertising. And we think that people on the outside could maybe teach us a thing or two.”

During their three months at the agency the WK Siders experience all aspects of advertising and work on a range of projects, including live briefs, pitches and in-house briefs. And from the agency’s perspective, WK Side has already begun to bear fruit, with one of the projects created by a WK Side team, the Christmas pudding rubbish sacks, bagging the agency a Yellow Pencil at the 2006 D&AD Awards.


One of the most impressive recent commercials by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam was Happiness Factory for Coca-Cola, an animated stunner that sees characters inside a Coke vending machine lovingly preparing a bottle of the sticky stuff for a customer. The film has now been lengthened to a six-minute spoof documentary, which is screened as a welcome video at the new, slightly frightening sounding, World of Coke theme park. The film, which is voiced in part by real-life Coke employees, features the characters from the commercial describing just how much they enjoy working for Coca-Cola, in charming fashion.






What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

Buy the issue

The Annual 2018

The Creative Review Annual is one of the most
respected and trusted awards for the creative
industry. We celebrate the best creative work from
the past year, those who create it and commission it.

Enter now


South East London - Competitive


London - £35,000 - £40,000


Birmingham - Salary £30-£35k


Leeds, West Yorkshire - £20,000 - 30,000