In 2012 Wieden & Kennedy found its greatness -- again. It would seem practically impossible for the agency to raise the bar for its founding client after landmark campaigns like "Just Do It," "Chalkbot," and "Write the Future" (out of Amsterdam), but this year saw an inspirational effort for the athletic brand that may very well go down in history as one of its finest.
The "Find Your Greatness" campaign documented tales of unsuspecting heroes of sport outside of the glory of the Olympics, which included what Creativity believed to be the best spot of the year. "Jogger." Directed by Park Pictures' Lance Acord, it shows a young, overweight boy struggling to run but still committed to the task at hand in order to get fit. The quiet strength of the ad cut through all the Olympics clutter and won attention for Nike, even though the brand wasn't an official sponsor of the Games.
According to Mark Fitzloff, the Portland co-ECD recently promoted to global co- ECD alongside former Socialistic founder Colleen DeCourcy it was a total change in direction, since the advertiser's campaigns in recent years had tended toward "aggro, testosterone-fueled, football-focused messages." He noted: "As soon as they feel like we're in a rut, or we feel like they're in a rut, we both come to a joint decision that it's time to do something different. It was a super simple idea…one of the ones where you think 'How have we not done that before?' and then the campaign built up around it."
W&K's ability to deliver such gems even amid the occassional period of agency turmoil is noteworthy. In early January, the Portland office parted ways with longtime client Target, ending a legacy of work that added refreshingly quirky dimension to the retailer's design-minded oeuvre. "The hardest part of last year was saying goodbye to Target," said W&K Portland Exec Creative Director and Partner Susan Hoffman. "We loved that brand. We had a pretty well-oiled machine, so it was difficult to part ways."
But that dismal opener wasn't a projection of things to come. W&K Portland went on to turn out home run after home run for Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler and others.
The Olympics were the venue for another touching effort, this time for Procter & Gamble. The brand campaign went beyond the athletes themselves to the foundation of their success: their moms. The highlight of the campaign was "Best Job," directed by Anonymous Content/Independent Film's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Accompanied by a series of online documentaries about Olympian mothers, the heart-tugging stories earned the agency its second back-to-back Emmy (the previous year it won for Chrysler's "Born of Fire).
W&K arguably won the Super Bowl as well, producing the controversial "Halftime in America" starring Clint Eastwood via Chelsea Pictures' David Gordon Green that won more attention that the other Big Game spots. The agency also undertook the game's most Herculean digital effort, for Coca-Cola, bringing the brand's furry animated polar bears to life on the second screen as they reacted in real time to what was happening on the tube.
And then there's Old Spice. There was a time we couldn't have imagined the brand without perenially shirtless Isaiah Mustafa, but Portland continued to keep Old Spice fresher than the armpits that wear it. Work included a crazy interactive escapade in which NBA player Dikembe Mutombo set out to save us from the apocalypse (and did, apparently) and Terry Crews' Muscle Music, a fully embeddable, interactive Vimeo video that let users play music off the former football star's pecs--which also proved you don't have to be on YouTube to go viral.
"One thing to know about the Old Spice creative team is that there's no division as far as the media choices go," said Mr. Fitzloff. "The creative teams that work on it don't sub in and sub out depending on what the assignment is…the team looks exactly the same when we're making TV as it does when it's digital. They're our biggest success story as far as 360 brand approaches. It's no coincidence that we are the creative agency of record, media planning agency of record and the digital agency of record for Old Spice. It shows in the work."
Such high-profile campaigns led to calls from the most high-profile clients, even when they've never done much in the way of advertising before. In October, W&K was named agency of record for Facebook as the social network celebrated the platform's one billion-user mark with a poetic film that likened people's desire for connection to--of all things--a chair, also directed by Inarritu.
It was a metaphor perhaps too lofty, too obtuse for audiences, inspiring widespread pans and parodies in the media. But Mr. Fitzloff stands by the work.
"We would spend lots of time thinking about what the meaning of Facebook is sociologically and what it means about our culture," he said. "We got super nerdy and intellectual about it and got to do that with Mr. Zuckerberg himself repeatedly. That spot is super earnest and a product of all those conversations. When you lead with your chin that way, there are always cynical bastards who are just going to knock you right in. I thought it was a pretty brave move for them and for us to go for something that sincere, so if people want to throw stones at us, that's fine."
If anything characterizes Wieden's year, it's the agency's unapologetic dedication to its mantra of creativity above all. "We really value our people and creativity," said Ms. Hoffman. "I'm not sure it's as easy to get great work out as it was in the past, but even with those higher hurdles we have to try like hell because otherwise, there's no reason for us."
Going into 2013, W&K's founder Dan Wieden will take a step further back, taking the role of chairman and elevating a host of others. While titles are changing, the job of the agency remains the same. "Our role in the industry is to be the ones who set a creative bar," said Mr. Fitzloff. "And we've decided we accept that responsibility. If we were just another ad agency, we'd be pretty bored and we wouldn't be able to get people to move to Portland, Oregon and put up with all the other things people have to deal with here."
Check out the other 2012 Creativity A-List honorees here.