This is an article written by Campaign India magazine.
Don’t act big, says W+K
Kurien Mathews, 03 March, 2009
Campaign India was one of the fortunate few to receive the spectacular
showpiece record of W+K. Here’s a masterly review of the limited
edition, not-for-sale, collector’s item.
It is tough to comment objectively on work done by iconoclasts who have
successfully demolished most established rules of the game, to build an
enterprise that remains one of the most admired companies in our
business, ever. It is easy to get overwhelmed, and there is a lot that
there is to be overwhelmed about W+K. This book is their story. It is a book that chronicles their work, their beliefs and their times. It is about the agency two guys started in Portland, Oregon in 1982.
How did they get to be so successful? To borrow a quote from a book by
another agency a few years ago, who in turn borrowed it from Lao Tzu who
wrote it nearly three thousand years ago in his classic, Tao Te Ching:
“Evolved individuals know that people who are not intuitive can be
dangerous to work with, since they are guided solely by the current
appearance of things that are in reality, changing. Evolved individuals
seek out others who have intuition and vision – a form of intelligence
that comes from cultivating the instincts, observing the direction of
change, apprehending the evolution of ideas.”
Dan Wieden and David Kennedy fully embody Lao Tzu’s words. Their level
of consistent success simply cannot come otherwise.
Why a book for such a famous agency, one might ask. Creative people have
“books”. Agencies too have had books before W+K, as they will after. It
is the way both, agencies and individuals, put forward their best work,
their abilities and try to influence you to think about them in a
particular way. We could suppose that as W+K sets about expanding
geographically it would be an appropriate time to communicate their
culture and their successes to wider audiences, and a book is as good a
medium as any.
We have all seen some books in our time, from individuals and from
agencies. There have been all kinds. From the pompous to the raucous;
the arrived, and the trying-to-arrive; from the shiny-new-me to the
look-at-all-we’ve-done. Some have been very good, some in poor taste. Usually all of them have been very large books. At least A3 size, if not more. Most of them said,
Not the latest offering from Wieden + Kennedy. It is the size of your
average diary. Comes with a not too loud cover, just the letters W+K
emblazoned on it in gold, in serif gothic (or something like that … I
am no art director), rather like you would see on the leather bound
cover of The Old Testament, except this one is on plastic, which we hope
The three words “don’t act big” feature somewhere in the middle of the
book. There is a nice teaser that leads to it early on in the book,
about how W+K don’t have rules except for something they found written
on a scrap of paper, something before D and D founded the agency back in
1982, which they reveal later to be “don’t act big”. Quite a nice
contrast to what is on the spine of the book: “what we honor are
individuals, in all their wackiness…”
What is it that makes W+K different from the rest? We could attribute it
to that fairly well known acronym: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. Staying
true to that, W+K’s new book is simple, much like most of the
advertising from W+K that has been for all these years; simple, yet
brilliant. As a matter of fact all their work has been consistently
simple and brilliant, since the day, as the book says, ‘they quit their
day job to follow this client who wanted to make shoes with a waffle
iron’. Simple like, “Just do it”, or “the Coke side of life”. Clearly
inspired in letter and spirit by Oliver Wendell Holmes who said “I would
not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity. But I would
give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
The book is full of inspirational stories like Nike. Stuff that we have
all oohed and aahed at, in various award annuals all these years since
1982. Going beyond Nike, to Coke, Google, Honda… and even Royal
Enfield and Indigo Airlines.
But as with all “books” by agencies that are done to put forward their
best work, their abilities and to try and influence how you think about
them, it does showcase the best work, carefully handpicked to leave out
the mediocre. However, there is also a certain honesty to admit that
that they too have failed, when they point you to the giant mural (made
of 100,000 pushpins) that hangs in their Portland office that simply
states: Fail Harder. W+K have had their share of troubled times in the
past with layoffs, salary cuts, financial troubles and client losses
(which include Nike, which sacked them only to return a few years
Overall W+K comes across as a good, honest, hardworking agency that has
got a lot of things right. Very, very right.
There is very little bullshit in the book, which tends to creep in, in
most attempts at self-promotion. That is because all the work is real.
No scams here. The work and the honesty with which one needs to approach it comes
through. For it is not about how many awards their work wins or the
industry admiration it gets. At the end of the day it is about the
success the work creates for the brands that engaged
the agency in the first place. W+K created a lot of successes for the
brands who engaged them.
W+K is one of the agencies that understand very well that building a
brand is not something you engage in over an IPL season. It takes time.
You have to live through all the challenges the consumer, the client,
and the competition will throw at you. W+K comes up tops on every count,
obviously only with reference to the work they have showcased in the
book. I did not find any mention of Subaru in the book, with whom they
have had a fairly tumultuous relationship.
There are lots of interesting nuggets in the book. My favorite is:
patience and progress are fucking hard. Is that Gita-esque or what?
There is more of that kind of stuff towards the end of the book, in a
section W+K have called “The moral of the story”.
Another nugget: advertising is storytelling. Good point, stated by many,
restated by W+K. Often forgotten by practitioners.
All in all, this is a great storybook. It has its share of gimmicks;
fold outs, iron-ons and tear-aways. But they are practical and nice,
though. Not overdone.
There is a USB pen drive thingy tucked away quite nicely. That has all
the films and work since the book went into print. Nice touch.
The book is, at the end of the day, an attempt to market themselves: W+K
now have seven offices. They need to establish heritage and credentials
in these new markets. They need a tool that goes beyond the Portland
office. They need to evangelize the thinking, set it in stone, so that
the success that it has been can be replicated, over and over again.
Feel good about the more than fair coverage the fledgling India office
has. Given the terrific work (and the relatively low profile Mohit Jayal
and V Sunil have maintained all these years), this should help them grow
Try and get your hands on a copy. The book is only for private
circulation. There are apparently innumerable issues on copyright if you
publish and put it out on sale, but no issues if it is for limited
Finally, watch out for W+K in this market.