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February 11, 2010 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Wieden+Kennedy is an international advertising agency with a reputation for clever, unexpected advertisements. Their most famous work is Nike's Just Do It campaign; they were also responsible for the breathtaking Honda Cog, which took six hundred takes to get right. Recently they launched the Leroy Smith campaign, starring Charlie Murphy (a campaign that included this delightful game), and some marvelous commercials for Old Spice.

The agency is also notable for its WKE label, which publishes original material — novels, videos, music — from Wieden+Kennedy employees. It's the company behind TokyoLab (profiled here). It also runs an annual incubation program called WK12, which, among other things, releases bathroom reading.
posted by Rory Marinich (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I did storyboards for one of these campaigns. True story.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:20 AM on February 11, 2010


Which one? Are you allowed to talk about it?
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:21 AM on February 11, 2010


those Old Spice commercials are fantastic; a friend of mine found 'em this past weekend and we've been giggling over them ever since.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:26 AM on February 11, 2010


they were also responsible for the breathtaking Honda Cog

Otherwise known as the Peter Fischli and David Weiss piece?
posted by R. Mutt at 7:29 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


What season of Mad Men is this from? I thought I was caught up.
posted by geoff. at 7:31 AM on February 11, 2010



Which one? Are you allowed to talk about it?


It was a Nike campaign. They were getting experimental with the presentation and hired me to do some elaborate drawings for a commercial idea pitch. My experience with them was good.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:32 AM on February 11, 2010


The video R. Mutt refers to.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2010


I saw a presentation of theirs at Sundance, about their innovative strategy for marketing the movie Coraline: on metafilter.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:40 AM on February 11, 2010


To be honest, they scared the shit out me. I don't like advertising to be smarter than its targets. We need to get more dummies and toadies into the industry or one day they'll be speaking directly into our hearts.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:44 AM on February 11, 2010


Where the Suckers Moon is a fairly interesting book largely about Wieden and Kennedy's (sorry I am not your typographical plaything "creatives") (failed) Subaru campaign in the early 1990s.
posted by enn at 7:48 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't have that same wariness toward advertising agencies. Possibly it's the fact that I'm going for a degree in advertising. Actually I'm pretty certain it's that.

I wrote an essay about this which is offline with the rest of my stuff at the moment which says: Not all advertising is intrusive and bullshitty. Some advertising — the best advertising — is the sort that tries and change your perspective on a product, rather than just shove its name down your throats. I'd liken it to music discussion. I've seen plenty of instances where somebody was able to sell a band's sound to me just by sitting down and explaining what they heard in the music that was so good. The music doesn't change, but now I have information I didn't have before and suddenly I'm able to like it.

Some ads do that, too. I'm thinking of the iPod and iPhone advertisements particularly. The iPod ads essentially just said "Here's a device, and it plays music", but it puts it into context by reminding you of just how wonderful music is. So this tech gizmo suddenly becomes a portal to wonderful things. The early iPhone ads were like that too, with the black background and the hand navigating between watching a movie and looking up calamari on a map and calling a place. It was about utility. Like: Yeah, this product browses the Internet and plays video, but that's not what we're selling. We're selling you the ability to go about things like this, and it's simple and calm and relaxed.

The good thing about technology is that it gives advertisers the opportunity to be more benevolent with their ads. No more speaking at a camera and mentioning a product in a tinny voice. Now you can be more direct, more friendly, part of the community. Yeah, you're selling something, but everybody's selling something. As I write this I'm trying to sell my comment to you, because if I'm writing comments and people aren't noticing then why comment? So I market them, in a sense, not by spamming it but by trying to make sure that comment is relevant and interesting and entertaining enough for you to care about reading it. That's not necessarily a bad motive. It is if you lie about your motive, or if you go about achieving that motive in lazy and bad ways, but there's nothing bad with being a salesperson if you're selling something you think is good.

I don't like all advertising, but the idea of somebody selling me things I'm fine with. I think a part of being in society ought to be about learning what you want versus what you're told you want. If you're reasonably sure about which is which, then advertisements are merely trying to get you in a conversation where they tell you they're the one and not the other. Sometimes they might be right. If they're not, then you can appreciate the pitch, shake their hand warmly, and wish them a good day.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wieden+Kennedy is an international advertising agency with a reputation for clever, unexpected advertisements.

And, if I am not mistaken, a current infamy for sexist, hate-drenched Dodge commercials that we just talked about over here, together with a much older transgression of not getting permission from artists to use their songs.
posted by bunnycup at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2010


Oh, ugh. The Dodge commercial was theirs? Boo to them.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:05 AM on February 11, 2010


CHARLIE MURPHY!!!!!!
posted by chillmost at 8:09 AM on February 11, 2010


I used to go to their Portland office on a somewhat regular basis to deliver food. There's a giant beaver in the lobby, along with what seemed to be a rotating sample of art, possibly created by their employees. The space also has a basketball court and a giant nest made out of wood up on the 6th floor I believe, presumably for meeting purposes. Seemed like a pretty cool place to work.
posted by friendlyjuan at 8:12 AM on February 11, 2010


I hadn't seem that Honda cog ad before. It's pretty neat to watch but I think my reaction is probably not what Honda would hope. I'm left thinking of a Honda as an association of barely connected parts that all have to work exactly right or else everything falls apart. It makes me want to tiptoe around their car rather than hop into it.
posted by Babblesort at 8:30 AM on February 11, 2010


People still use Old Spice?
posted by jonmc at 8:31 AM on February 11, 2010


They have an office in Portland? WHY DOES LIFE TAUNT ME.
posted by spec80 at 8:48 AM on February 11, 2010


I have a few friends that used to work for W&K in the Portland and Tokyo offices. They spoke very highly of the agency and its creative talent, which I found odd and refreshing - ex-employees of big agencies tend to be bitter and talk a lot of smack about their former employers.
posted by brand-gnu at 8:56 AM on February 11, 2010


They have an office in Portland? WHY DOES LIFE TAUNT ME

It's their main office. It's incredible. It's huge. You can't get in unless you have the requisite tattoos.

No seriously, W&K is a pretty cool, creative bunch. They're big supporters of the NPO I work for. Couple of the execs sit on our board. I've actually had the pleasure to meet Dan Weiden a time or two. They're incredibly good to their employees. And W&K Radio is pretty damn good, as far as hipster music goes.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:00 AM on February 11, 2010


Ad people are parasites. Advertising is a form of environmental pollution.

Sorry, just telling like it is. We're drowning in cynically insincere speech.

Is some of it creative? Sure. Just let's not pretend that a career of selling [anything a client will pay you to sell] — basically a form of prostitution — is a form of art.
posted by namasaya at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is some of it creative? Sure. Just let's not pretend that a career of selling [anything a client will pay you to sell] — basically a form of prostitution — is a form of art.

Well, I certainly don't want to defend advertising as art, exactly, but many of the artworks we treasure so much as a culture came about in such a way. Instead of corporations, it used to the church. Lest we forget Bach, Haydn, Michelangelo....
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2010


You're right, Lutoslawski. But the fact that black and white have fuzzy edges doesn't mean that black (or, let's say ... dark grey) is the same as white.
posted by namasaya at 9:18 AM on February 11, 2010


I love to see Charlie Murphy in anything, but they should have hired Tim and Eric for that one.
posted by cmoj at 9:27 AM on February 11, 2010


Art sells something too. It just doesn't call it "selling something." Musicians hit certain chords to make us react in certain ways, or they produce their music in ways to evoke reactions. Phil Spector, the same guy that brought us the packaged pop of Be My Baby, brought us the stark, personal sound of Plastic Ono Band. Is Be My Baby somehow worse because it's commercial? No. It's just a different kind of art, that strives for something different.

Advertising is a strictly commercial art, but it's an art nonetheless. It's capable of making us feel things and think things. It can start conversations. Crispin Porter Bogusky's famous Volkswagen ad is selling Volkswagen first and foremost, but in order to sell it it asks us a question about how we drive, specifically how we don't pay attention to the things that matter the most when we're behind the wheel of a powerful, deadly machine. CPB in particular is well-known for creating off-the-cuff advertisements that manage to start conversations about specific things about their products. There's an art behind how they put their work together.

Now, advertisements don't do everything art's capable of doing. Ads are limited by the client and by the message. But advertisers, like and artists worth their salt, are constantly pushing at those boundaries, aesthetically and emotionally. I know of a few ads that make people cry — not many, but a few. And advertising constantly evolves and becomes lusher. Ten years ago you'd never see a video game made for the purpose of selling a character who's selling a fake product that's really selling Michael Jordan. There's an incredible effort that goes into creating that multifaceted world.

There's a craft to advertising. There's certainly creativity. If you define creativity as connecting seemingly unconnected ideas to create a whole, then you've got a definition of the best art and the best advertisements all in one.

So advertising is certainly an art. It's not all of art, and people that get all their art through ads are as depraved as people who read books but never listen to music, or people who only ever listen to thrash metal, or people who only ever listen to piano sonatas. But it says things in unique, interesting, sometimes beautiful ways.

The fact that it's commercial doesn't cheapen it. In fact, one of the boundaries of the form is that practitioners are challenged to say something sincere and meaningful while still meeting a client's needs. Kind of like architecture, or graphic design, or every other "practical art" where somebody else's desires are part of the limitations. Those limitations are what make the best work in those forms: You take somebody else's limits and riff within a small space and make something with a groove that's unique to that space.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:34 AM on February 11, 2010


Oh, ugh. The Dodge commercial was theirs? Boo to them.

Actually, that commercial was an enlightening look at the kind of person who feels the need to by an penile extension.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:34 AM on February 11, 2010


Thanks. Being American, I had no idea about advertising.
posted by shownomercy at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2010


Here, I'll just copy and paste my comment from the Superbowl thread.

"But no one gets to defend Weiden Kennedy anymore. Let them take their knocks. I like design and advertising and all that, and I keep an eye on them since they have a Portland branch, and they seem to consistently pop up with boneheaded moves."

posted by redsparkler at 9:50 AM on February 11, 2010


So advertising is certainly an art.

Yes, but art with insidious intent.
posted by cmoj at 10:26 AM on February 11, 2010


Yes, but art with insidious intent.

Insidious? It's not like anybody's confused by advertisements. We all know what they're doing. We all know what angle they're coming from. So the bias is declared and out in the open.

Every day I walk past people from nonprofits who've taken to the streets to get attention. They want to engage me in whatever discussion they feel's worth having. Sometimes I'll take the time to talk to them a bit, listen to their sales pitch. I don't think it's inherently evil that they're trying to get people to think about their cause. It gets insidious if they're not telling me what they're doing before they hit me with the pitch, but selling things in and of itself is a noble career.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2010


Hey man, what is art, anyway? [puff...puff...]
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:43 AM on February 11, 2010


a reputation for clever, unexpected advertisements


Unexpected... unless you're familiar with a certain 8-year-old ad for an Israeli milk producer.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence, though. Or, as the cool "creatives" like to say, an "homage."
posted by Nothing... and like it at 2:46 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not all their work is brilliant. Their good work is very, very good, however.

I don't watch many commercials — missed the Super Bowl completely — so usually the only advertisements I see are ones that somebody else has sent to me. Wieden+Kennedy is frequently sent; some of their ads (the ones I linked to, minus perhaps the Nike one) fascinated me.

We could have a discussion about whether "creative" as a noun is an assault on the English language or not. Personally, I really like how goofy it is to lump somebody in under the name the way you would somebody from Accounts. But I understand the reasoning of the people who like to snark about the word.

Homage? Really? That's what hipster poets say. The adpeople I know are a lot more down-to-earth than that. They'd say something like: "I liked that thing and wanted to do something like it." Or, to quote Picasso: "Great artists steal." Or, to reason it out myself: Sometimes, seeing something somebody else did and knowing how to use it in another context is effective in and of itself. Unless you have a preternatural awareness of every ad in history, and know exactly when to lift what from what, then it's worth paying somebody else to do that for you. Or, if you do have that talent, then you find a way to get paid lots of money for it yourself.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:53 PM on February 11, 2010


Sometimes, seeing something somebody else did and knowing how to use it in another context is effective in and of itself.


Congratulations, Rory Marinich-- you'll go far in the industry. Your hilarious attempt at justifying passing off someone else's work as one's own is ur-Agency Creative.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 2:56 PM on February 11, 2010


Congratulations, Rory Marinich-- you'll go far in the industry. Your hilarious attempt at justifying passing off someone else's work as one's own is ur-Agency Creative.

Here I am trying to engage you in a discussion, and you decide it's more worth being a fuckass. Your loss.

The concept of remixing, of taking something somebody else did, and making it somehow work for you, is an incredibly old one. I don't see anything wrong with it. I enjoy also when Quentin Tarantino fashions soundtracks out of songs from older movies, and don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that.

In the case of the commercial you linked, I'm pretty saddened by just how blatant the copy is. But I'm not upset that it was copied; rather, I just wish the person copying it hadn't done such a lazy job, particularly when the result is not a very good commercial.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2010


Ads are limited by the client and by the message.

Yeah, that is pretty much what is wrong with them. Official Soviet era painting had the same problem.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2010


Look, I can't imagine any of us needing to be sold on advertising one way or the other. Thanks.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:53 PM on February 11, 2010


Yeah, but it's so fun to argue about.

Yeah, that is pretty much what is wrong with them. Official Soviet era painting had the same problem.

We're not talking the propaganda, are we? Because Soviet propaganda is absolutely gorgeous, especially now in the future where nobody has the "But it favors a pseudofascist ruler" card to play.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:26 PM on February 11, 2010


I came to say what Nothing just said. We've been on that case for days, both full ads here, but as it turns out nobody wants to comment and Matt posted before me (argh!)
posted by dabitch at 3:41 AM on February 12, 2010


Speaking of similarities, The Honda Cog was called a rip-off by the creators of der lauf der dinge (the google video no longer works, aargh), Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who were reportedly filing a suit against 1+k for the idea-theft.
posted by dabitch at 4:28 AM on February 12, 2010


I somehow missed R.Mutt's comment. My bad.
posted by dabitch at 4:28 AM on February 12, 2010


Rory Marinich, would love to hear your though on Leni Riefenstahl.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:12 AM on February 12, 2010


*thoughts
posted by R. Mutt at 5:18 AM on February 12, 2010


Speaking of similarities, The Honda Cog was called a rip-off by the creators of der lauf der dinge (the google video no longer works, aargh), Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who were reportedly filing a suit against 1+k for the idea-theft.
posted by dabitch at 7:28 AM on February 12 [+] [!]


Wait, you mean they didn't get permission from Fischli and Weiss to do that ad? I always assumed that they had, because who would so blatantly copy an existing work and try to pass it off as their own? Oh right, they needed to sell cars. Fuck these guys.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:10 AM on February 12, 2010


Rory Marinich, would love to hear your though on Leni Riefenstahl.

I love fanning the flames. Have you watched Olympia? Or Triumph Of The Will? The cinematic technique is incredibly thoughtful. At the level of form, the films are beautiful to watch.

Obviously there's a dilemma there, that this cinematic craftsmanship is yoked to a particular political position, moral stance, etc. The problem is - as an aesthetic subject, can you afford to cross off your roster a vast range of work because of the position it's selling (as it were)? If you do that, where do you stop? What work of art or craft is sufficiently pure for you to admit it into the category of "Art," rather than "Propaganda" or "Advertising" or what-have-you? (Outsider art, maybe, but this introduces its own set of problems...)

On the other hand, as a moral subject, can you afford to ignore the moral implications of a work - especially if they're kind of repugnant?

The test case for this sort of thing, in my mind, is always "Birth Of A Nation" - a film that, on the one hand, pretty much invented the language of cinema, and, on the other hand, is a four-hour heroic bildung where the hero is the KKK.

Ebert on Birth Of A Nation is instructive, here. But it's a problem everyone wrestles with.

I think it's a little bit limiting to say that any advertising is by definition not art, or any propaganda is by definition not art, or what-have-you, though - people are imperfect, and their circumstances are never entirely free. To create, one must make compromises.

I, for one, am far more suspicious of an artist who claims to be unencumbered by any external consideration (paying rent, buying food, advocating a particular political position, etc) and curious about the circumstances that underwrite that claim than I am of an artist, whether he be filmmaker, author, or ad man, who is explicit about the commercial, political, or moral dimensions of his work, who wears his constraints on his sleeve, and yet keeps trying to create something beautiful.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:40 AM on February 12, 2010


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