Creatives reflect on legend Dan Wieden’s influence

(Photo credit: Wieden+Kennedy)
(Photo credit: Wieden+Kennedy)

Wieden, co-founder of the iconic advertising agency and adland icon, passed away on Saturday at 77 years old.

Dan Wieden, co-founder of creative agency Wieden + Kennedy and adland creative icon, passed away on Saturday Oct. 1 at 77 years old. 

One of advertising’s most influential creative leaders, the Wieden + Kennedy cofounder was behind iconic campaigns, such as Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. Since its founding in 1982 the independent agency has built iconic brands including Nike, Old Spice and KFC. 

He passed away almost exactly one year after his cofounder and creative partner, David Kennedy.

Wieden’s creative leadership influenced the careers of hundreds of ad creatives who are now bringing his legacy to agencies new and old across the globe. 

Campaign US asked these leaders, and those from the clients he worked with, to share their thoughts on how Wieden inspired their brands and their careers. 

Here are their responses. 

The Old Spice team shared that their hearts go out to their agency partners.

Jae Goodman, founder and board advisor, Observatory, former copywriter at Wieden + Kennedy

Dan the human and Wieden + Kennedy the institution do much more than inspire the most consistent high-caliber creativity our industry has ever seen or will ever see. 

Dan and the Wieden culture have this self-actualizing power that forces you to want more from yourself, to figure out who you really are and then want to be the best version of that you. 

It's overwhelming in the true sense of the word: Dan's belief in your ability to leave your mark despite all the brilliance before you and surrounding you permeates your entire being.

It's competitive as hell because everyone around you is on that same journey. Yet the one thing you're not competing for (even though you are) is Dan's approval because Dan makes it so, so clear that he is forever on your side.

Don't get me wrong, he could be cutting and inspiring at the same time: "Jae, your best work is ahead of you."

And he's human: I once watched him get more-than-grumpy at a room full of U of O students for phoning in a faux-Nike assignment. He apologized, and built the room back up. The next week the kids blew us away with their ideas. You could see the pride in the students' eyes, and in Dan's.

Without Dan Wieden there is no Jae Goodman as you and I know him.

Hal Curtis, longtime creative director, Wieden + Kennedy

Dan’s unique gift was an intuitive understanding of how to create a culture that allowed and inspired a group of talented people to make great work.

Karl Lieberman, global CCO, Wieden + Kennedy

Dan gave the place its center. If Dan liked it, you were good. It didn’t really matter what anyone else thought after that. As long as Dan thought the work was good, it was good. And this really grounded the place. Wieden+Kennedy didn’t outsource its creative opinion to our clients or to the award shows or to anywhere else. What was good was defined right here in this building. To me that’s what makes this place creatively led. 

If it looked, felt or sounded like an ad, you were toast. Dan wasn’t trying to make better ads, he was trying to make something completely different. He was interested in the truth. He wanted you to have a point of view. He wanted you to move him emotionally.

Libby Brockhoff, cofounder, Odysseus Arms

Advertising has a God — creativity will never die and thus tons of people can live fulfilled lives with the religion.

Gavin Lester, partner and CCO, Zambezi 

England lost a Queen and now America has lost a king.

Doug Zanger, marketing and content consultant

I first encountered Wieden + Kennedy back in 1992. I had just moved to Oregon and I was pestering the agency to get an interview. Well, I finally got one, and I absolutely blew it. It was an unmitigated disaster — still the worst interview I've ever done by a longshot. So I thought, ‘Okay, well, if I'm not going to work there, at least I can be inspired by what they do.’ 

So when I got into radio, I aspired to do Wieden-level work. That was how Dan was really inspirational in my radio career. Because his work showed me that you didn't have to settle for just ok, just good enough, which radio tended to be. It can be amazing. 

But where our relationship was a little different was for his work Caldera, an arts charity that he founded to serve underserved youth in Oregon. That's where Dan and I really connected. You could tell that Caldera was and is incredibly special to him and his family. 

Creatively he inspired me just by being in the same orbit, being in Portland and showing me indirectly that doing the best work is always possible no matter the situation. Along with David Kennedy, he essentially reinvented advertising in the '80s and '90s. You could say the same about Hegarty, Goodby and Silverstein, Lee Clow — there are thousands of professionals in this industry that have come from that era. What's going to be really interesting is to see who picks up the mantle of that over the next few years. So I think despite the fact that obviously it's a very sad time and some people are saying it's the end of an era — I would argue that it could be the beginning of a new generation.

Colleen DeCourcy, CCO, Snap, former president and CCO of Wieden + Kennedy

Dan was an anomaly: lateral, spiritual and playful but an unflinchingly hard core leader. He didn’t reject business or success, he messed with it, like it didn’t matter. He eschewed the sidewalk to walk a tightrope, electrified by a bit of danger. Sometimes Dan protected us from the danger, sometimes he was the danger. You never knew which one. What you knew was that he admired the will to risk it all on a belief. And so you did. You knew he would catch you if you put yourself out there and fell. Once you gave yourself over to that, you were free. That’s what made Wieden + Kennedy what it was: The leaping, the catching, the freedom.

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