Brand Makers

Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy, who created Nike’s ‘Just Do It’, dies

Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, dies. Global ad industry mourns the passing of the revered adman and brain behind Nike’s Just Do It.

By  Storyboard18Oct 3, 2022 12:03 PM
Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy, who created Nike’s ‘Just Do It’, dies
Dan Wieden, American advertising executive and co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, was widely regarded as one of the industry's greatest creative minds, who had built a culture at his indie agency that put creativity over conformity.

Dan Wieden, one of the world’s most revered creative directors and agency owners, passed away this week. Wieden is one half of Wieden+Kennedy, the most famous independent agency on the planet and maker of Nike’s iconic advertising. Wieden+Kennedy coined the most recognizable tagline in history - Just Do It.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest creative minds the industry has ever seen, Wieden built a culture at his indie agency that put creativity over conformity.

Tributes have been pouring in from all quarters of the industry, in remembrance of the adman, the leader and the person.

W+K rival Goodby Silverstein & Partners shared this touching note about Wieden.

“If advertising could have holy people, Dan Wieden was certainly one of them. He spoke to those of us well beyond his own company, telling us it was okay – critical, in fact – to do things that had never been done before. Perhaps more importantly, he convinced us all that those things were already inside of us, and created a world in which it was safe to let them out.

We competed with W+K hard and they returned the favor. One day, we said it would be good to let off steam at some kind of joint agency event. Dan suggested a tug of war at the Oregon-California border.

We can still hear him chuckling about it.”

A former W+K hand and current CSO of Colenso, Rob Campbell took to LinkedIn to write about the impact Wieden had on his life and career.

Over the next few weeks, there will be many stories of Dan Wieden. His brilliance. His humbleness. His creativity. All will be incredible to read. But there was something else that made him special - his ability to unite a culture while encouraging the individuality of that culture. He craved creativity, never conformity.

For some reason, Wieden wanted me to feel some major love so they whisked me from W+K Shanghai and plonked me in front of Dan in Portland.

I think he was as surprised as me, but we chatted about all manner of things … from me running The Kennedys to how he managed to have offices in China, Japan and India - which blew his mind.

After 45 mins, he asked if I fancied lunch.

Of course I said yes to which he told me to follow him as we walked to one of his fave local restaurants. Nothing fancy. Just lovely.

We had an enjoyable lunch and he told me he was glad I was there. He even sounded like he meant it, haha. So when the bill came, I asked if I could pay.

He looked at me like I was a lunatic and asked why.

“Well …”, I said, “… my friends think you’re mad for hiring me so I want to get them back and paying for this meal is my way of asking you for a favour”.

He looked me dead in the eye and replied, “Should have known there’s no such thing as a free lunch. OK Campbell, tell me”.

So I asked if I could have a photo with him … but I wanted him to look like he was bollocking me, so I could show my friends and pretend he’d just found out they were right.

His eyes lit up.

“That doesn’t make much sense to me but let’s do it” … which explains the photo in this post and why every single time he saw me from then on (and I mean EVERY time) he’d say, “I thought I’d fired your ass” … thankfully with his eyes shining their infectious sparkle.

In many ways he changed my life. That sounds huge, but the opportunities he gave me through the company he co-founded resulted in a life I never could imagine and will always be grateful for.

Dan was a legend in so many ways. And yet if you told him (and I did) he would wave you away, refusing to acknowledge or accept it. (And don’t get me started on his reaction when he discovered people had W+K tattooed on them. Often as part of some founders day shenanigans. He literally couldn’t understand it)

Thank you Dan. For it all.

Harshad Rajadhakshya, chief creative officer, Ogilvy India shared:

For being the tallest lighthouse on creative shores, For that fiercely independent creative spirit, For showing generation upon generation how it's done, Thank you, sir. Dan Wieden ~ 1945-2022 #AdLegend #JustDoIt #NikeMan

LinkedIn influencer and author of ‘How To Speak Machine’, Dr John Maeda, shared this note on Wieden.

JUST DO IT: “You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.” —Dan Wieden (1945-2022)

I got to know Dan (of “Just do it.” Nike fame) when he pulled me into the W+K board where I learned his unique management and business philosophies. For example, Dan preferred leading in Roman-style triumvirates so that two co-leaders could outvote the other co-leader, and therefore they could always keep moving forward. Also, he insisted that the triumvirate molecule be comprised of one business person and two creatives so that “the work” would always be at the center of development.

Another practice that Dan believed in (and likely pioneered) was unhesitatingly firing bad clients no matter how profitable they were to W+K. Why? Because he knew thru experience that the negative impact on W+K’s work culture — esp in a people-based services business — had outsized consequences. So although it appeared that Dan cared more about his people and the work that they undertook … than the customer, it wasn’t just that. It was more about Dan’s goal to find the “right customer” for the quality of work they were willing to create — so that a true partnership could be had between agency and client. If you’ve ever seen the “Mad Men” episode where Roger Sterling is at the holiday party and … then you know what I mean when that can go wrong.

Dan was way more than just a “culture > strategy” Druckerist. He was a “culture = strategy” person who was truly one of a kind.

Jonathan Mildenhall, Co-founder and chair, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, shared an anecdote that perfectly captured Wieden’s approach to building a collaborative, creative and respectful culture.

My heart aches more than I thought it would. Like he did for a couple of generations in business Dan taught me so much.

One day after a workshop on Coca-Cola he took me into his office and sat me down. He said, Jonathan there are four types of clients.

1 those that treat the agency well and inspire great work.

2 those that treat the agency badly but still get great work.

3 those that treat the agency well but are too afraid to buy great work.

4 - those that treat the agency badly and are too afraid to buy great work.

We fire type 4, we try hard with type 3, we tolerate type 2 and we love type 1. He told me that he loved me. From that day forward I decided that I would always try to be the best human being I could be with all those I worked with and that I would only inspire and buy great work. The Coca-Cola company, Airbnb and dozens of other brands I have touched had Dan’s DNA all over the work whether W&K worked on the campaigns or not. His impact was and will remain that strong.

Rest well Dan.

I love you.

First Published on Oct 2, 2022 3:36 PM