Wieden+Kennedy Co-Founder Dan Wieden Dead at 77

Photo by Sam Beebe (CC BY SA 3.0) via Wikipedia
Dan Wieden in 2014

Wieden, who coined Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline, made memorable ads with an edge.

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Dan Wieden, one of the two founders of the storied Portland advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, died Friday at age 77.

Wieden co-founded Wieden+Kennedy with David Kennedy in 1982, with just one client: a local shoe company called Nike. In 1988 he coined the slogan that became synonymous with Nike and is one of the best-known slogans in the history of advertising: “Just Do It.”

Prior to founding the agency, Wieden graduated from University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication and worked for the paper company Georgia-Pacific, then based in Portland, in its marketing department. He was fired from that job, according to Wieden+Kennedy, but later went to work for the advertising agency McCann Erickson, once again creating ads for Georgia-Pacific. There he met David Kennedy.

Following Georgia-Pacific’s relocation to Atlanta and the closure of McCann Erickson, Wieden and Kennedy went to work for the William Cain agency, working together on a lumber company account — and a campaign for Nike. They founded Wieden+Kennedy on April Fool’s Day in 1982.

Three years later, the company created an ad for Honda Elite scooters, edited like a French New Wave film and featuring Lou Reed zipping around New York’s Lower East side. Prior to that, W+K had only handled small accounts for Nike. But once the agency demonstrated it could create memorable ads with an undeniable patina of cool, Nike shifted all of its business to W+K.

In 1987 W+K launched another famous TV spot: one featuring the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Nike paid $800,000 for rights to use the song. The ad drew sharp criticism from some corners, but it was also hugely popular, The Oregonian reports.

“One of Dan’s great lines, part of his ethos, was that if you’re going to do something memorable and worthwhile, it should have an edge,” Scott Bedbury, who joined Nike that year as its advertising director, told The Oregonian. “But if it has an edge, someone will get cut. So be it, as long as it’s authentic and true.”

In The Oregonian‘s story about Wieden’s passing, Karl Lieberman, the agency’s current chief creative officer, compared Wieden to Saturday Night Live creator and longtime producer Lorne Michaels.

“The reason it lasted so long was that he didn’t build an ad agency, he built a culture,” Lieberman said, adding that W+K is “a place that in a lot of ways reflects him.”

Wieden never formally retired from W+K, but he stepped into a chairman role and away from “active agency life” in 2015, according to the agency.

David Kennedy died last October at 82.

W+K is based in Portland’s Pearl district but has offices in Amsterdam, New York, Tokyo, London, Shanghai, India and São Paulo.


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