Although the diversity police would probably have had a field day at last night’s party to celebrate WCRS’s 40th birthday – and the not entirely unexpected announcement of Robin Wight’s retirement – it was staggering to see the amount of talent who had passed through that agency’s doors over the past decades assembled together. As reunions go, it was something special.
For Wight, it must have been an evening of mixed emotions. As well as celebrating the agency that has borne his name, the event also marked its passing as it has been subsumed into the Engine brand. It’s little wonder that he waited until this milestone had been reached to announce his retirement – but as befits an honorary colonel in the Army (albeit a decidedly eccentric one), he was a stoic.
While some of the (admittedly amusing) tales of excess belong to a different era, Wight was right when he said: "When the history of modern advertising is written, WCRS will be shown to have made its memorable mark." It has become a common and fashionable agency mantra to talk about "creating culture" – as if this was something new – and WCRS was doing it decades ago.
While the agency’s creation of "The future’s bright, the future’s Orange" is well-known, its ability to distil a brand proposition into a nifty strapline was remarkable. Among the many other examples to emanate from the brains of its creative department are: "A lot less bother than a Hover" for Qualcast; "The appliance of science" for Zanussi; "The best 4x4 by far" for Land Rover; and, of course, "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label". Many of these came from Wight himself and resonate down the ages.
Engine’s own strapline is "Transformation through collaboration" – maybe not up there with WCRS’s finest, but indicative of a direction of travel and range of different services that the group offers as a one-stop shop. The creation of this group has been relatively painless by modern standards, with Wight providing a level of continuity among much change. Given that he is way past normal retirement age, it’s time for others to step up – most notably, the likeable and energetic Matt Edwards – to be the figurehead.
His Tiggerish outlook on life might seem the complete opposite to the occasional bombast of Wight. But Edwards also displays a welcome irreverence to the industry and its traditions that perhaps marked WCRS out in the first place and helped nurture so many brilliant careers while producing some brilliant advertising.
Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign