Is a Rebrand Enough to Bust Perceptions About an Agency?

With Doner Becoming 'New Doner,' Ad Age Takes a Look at Similar Facelifts in Recent Years

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CHICAGO ( -- The branding woes of ad agencies remains one of the great running jokes of the business world: How companies that are paid millions to keep corporate marks relevant and vibrant so frequently fail to achieve the same for their own brands is often baffling.

Now, agencies are applying some of the tricks they usually reserve for clients to themselves. Some have literally changed their names: J. Walter Thompson became JWT; BBDO's Chicago office became " Energy BBDO." GSD&M adopted the "Idea City" moniker as part of its "plans to build the ad agency of the future." Others have gone for a visual refresh: Campbell-Mithun actually hired an outside branding firm to redesign its office and website around the "seven tenets" of agency founder Ray Mithun.

The latest is 70-year-old independent Doner, rebranding itself as the "new Doner" and unveiling a flashy new website and more modern-looking logo. "There is a perceptional gap between the way we are thought of and the type of work we are doing," said Co-CEO David DeMuth. "The purpose of this is to close that gap."

Here's a look at some perception-busting tries and how they've fared:

Year: 2005
Renamed the iconic agency as JWT, a sleeker moniker for a behemoth that wanted to transform itself into a "billion-dollar start-up." The move coincided with an overhaul of the creative department under newly hired Co-President and Chief Creative Officer Ty Montague. Mostly good. JWT today is clearly among the most creatively energized of the global agency networks, and that paid off largely in a massive Microsoft win (that's seen largely acclaimed work.) But the rebrand didn't save the agency's storied Chicago office (reduced to a tiny service hub for a local tourism account), and Mr. Montague and U.S. President Rosemarie Ryan left the agency to start a new shop earlier this year.
Year: 2005
Renamed itself "Energy BBDO" in a bid to contrast itself with the Chicago ad scene's less-than-energetic reputation. Mixed. The agency has expanded its crucial relationship with Wrigley after the marketer briefly shifted significant business up the street to DDB, and recently won key local accounts for the Chicago White Sox and Illinois Lottery. But last year it parted ways with spirits giant Beam Global, for whom it had done celebrated work for Canadian Club but struggled to move the needle for flagship Jim Beam.
Year: 2007
Renamed itself "GSD&M Idea City" as part of its "plans to build the advertising agency of the future," a move that coincided with senior executive changes at the shop and followed the loss of the massive Walmart business. Mixed. GSD&M lost most of its business with mega client AT&T shortly after the rebranding, and its creative department has struggled for stability at the top. But the agency has also managed to win accounts from LL. Bean, Marshall's, Popeyes and Goodyear.
Year: 2007
Hired an outside branding firm to help it freshen up its office, website, business cards and presentation materials with designs inspired by tenets from agency founder Mr. Mithun. A branding consultant said the idea was to give creatives at the shop known more for account management "permission to do great work." Not so great. The agency has struggled to win new business, and the account that saw its most-acclaimed work -- H&R Block -- fled to DDB last year. Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Hoffman departed late last year.
Year: 2008
Revamped its logo and website to communicate what CEO Peter McGuinness calls its attempt to "completely inverse" an agency known for little more than TV and print. In the months that followed, the shop added significant digital power and turned over 70% of its staff. Outstanding. Gotham's reinvention won significant new business -- and placed the agency at the top of Ad Age's "Agencies to Watch" list this year.
Year: 2010
Revamped its logo and website in a bid to show that it's no longer a TV-driven agency. Stay tuned. The shop says its transformation has already sparked new-business momentum, but whether the "new Doner" is persuasive to old client Mazda -- whose business is currently in review -- may ultimately determine whether this rebrand succeeds.
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