Wieden + Kennedy Brazil creative leadership departs over controversial work

(L-R: Eduardo Lima, Fernanda Antonelli and Renato Simões).
(L-R: Eduardo Lima, Fernanda Antonelli and Renato Simões).

The film, created for Festival do Clube de Criação, highlighted historical crises and the cultural movements that emerged from them.

Three executive leaders at Wieden + Kennedy São Paulo have departed the agency after a creative film released for the Festival do Clube de Criação, a creative festival in the city, ignited controversy online. 

Executive creative directors Eduardo Lima and Renato Simoes and general director Fernanda Antonelli reported for their last day at the agency on Friday, Wieden + Kennedy confirmed, following backlash over its “Crises” publicity film for the festival released on September 1.

The film depicted several historical events including the Inquisition, slavery in the U.S., the Spanish Civil War and World War II and ends with a clip of the current COVID-19 crisis. Each clip was followed by images of artistic or cultural movements that emerged or were related to those events, such as the Black Power Movement and the work Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 

The creative drew negative feedback on social media, with people criticizing the use of tragic events in history to illustrate creative inspiration, especially slavery. 

Within a few hours of the film’s release, Clube de Criação (Creative Club) took the ad off the air and removed the original post about the work on Twitter. The club later posted a joint statement with W+K that “as soon as the negative reactions surfaced, [they] understood how inappropriate the message is” and decided to remove the ad. 

In light of the leadership’s departure, Wieden + Kennedy São Paulo will be temporarily led by André Gustavo, global director of the Nike account and Felipe Ribeiro, creative director at the New York office. 

Wieden + Kennedy São Paulo has faced several creative leadership changes in recent weeks. Mariana Borga, creative director since 2019 recently departed, followed by head of art and creative director Fabiano Higashi, who joined the agency last year. 

As a result, in addition to serving as interim executive leadership, Gustavo and Ribeiro will oversee the restructuring of the agency’s creative department.

On Thursday, W+K issued an official statement to Brazilian trade publication Meio & Mensagem, saying it does not take “leadership changes lightly” but that “it was time for a change” and “the decision was not taken in isolation or just based on an incident.” 

Like many agencies, diversity and cultural sensitivity has been an area for improvement for Wieden + Kennedy over the last year. In 2020, the agency was among several to be called upon and commited to releasing diversity data as part of non-profit 600&Rising’s “Commit to Change” initiative, which issued a call to action following George Floyd’s murder by police officer Derek Chauvin. According to global workforce data on its website, W+K increased racial diversity in its workforce year-over-year, with the number of Black employees increasing by 2%, Latinx employees by 1% and Asian employees by 2%.

Wieden + Kennedy confirmed the departures but declined to go into further detail. According to an agency spokesperson, W+K will “announce a new leadership team in the coming weeks.”

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