Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy and creator of Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” campaign, has died. He was 77. The agency said he died peacefully with his wife at his side.
Wieden+Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden dies at 77
Wieden, one of the most celebrated creatives in advertising, started W+K with David Kennedy on April Fool’s Day in 1982 after the duo left McCann-Erickson in Portland, Oregon, where they founded their fledgling shop. They brought the Nike account with them and turned the brand into an international powerhouse backed by ads that would go on to be classics, all the while turning Portland into a creative hub (an unlikely feat for a city worlds away from Madison Avenue).
“Just Do It” debuted in 1987 as a way to unite multiple Nike spots. "We're usually not big ones for taglines," Wieden said in a 1989 interview with Portland newspaper The Oregonian. "But because we were doing so many spots and the look had to be different, we felt we needed to have some cement to the thing. We felt 'Just Do It' would work for those at the competitive level as well as for people interested only in fitness."
Wieden’s passing comes nearly one year after his partner Kennedy died. The One Club summarized their relationship this way in their Creative Hall of Fame entry: “While they shared an abhorrence for the conventional, they differed in correspondent ways. Dan was voluble where David was contemplative. Dan was wild, David disciplined. Dan was always seeking the untried and unknown; David would find the precedent that could anchor it in a comprehensible reality. Most importantly, David—a man who was known to rummage through his office for, and yelp in excitement at finding, the exact right typeface for a comp—taught Dan that advertising could be fun.”
A highly decorated creative, Wieden was inducted into the One Club Hall of Fame, the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame. He received the President’s Award from D&AD, the lifetime achievement award from Clio, and in 2012 received the Lion of St. Mark award from the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity.
Read more: Phil Knight on meeting Dan Wieden and his legacy
Karl Lieberman, W+K’s global chief creative officer, in a statement to Ad Age said: “Dan always called Wieden+Kennedy a ‘cosmic joke.’ And I always understood and appreciated that he’d put it that way with such levity because he was never overly reverential or worthy about the place."
He continued: "But on a day like today, when you’re thinking about all that he did for this business and seeing all that it did for the companies it’s touched and you’re also connecting with and reconnecting with so, so many people who’ve all been a part of this thing that only exists because of what he and Dave started, it doesn’t feel like a cosmic joke at all. It feels like a cosmic gift that he’s given to us. A gift that we collectively need to protect and grow and evolve for more and more generations to come.”
Wieden was insistent that the agency that bore his name remained independent, so much so that he put the agency into a trust, as the agency said, “ensuring that it will remain independent forever.”
In a 2016 interview with Ad Age’s then Editor-in-Chief Rance Crain, Wieden reflected on one of his proudest feats: creating an enduring culture inside Wieden+Kennedy.
“That's just not in Portland, Oregon. It's in New York and it's in Europe and it's in Asia, South America and India,” he said. “If you go into any one of our offices, you will find there is something going on that is very similar. I don't know how that happens, but there's a sense of freedom and really a stretch just to do something wonderful."
He added: "Just between you and me, I do not understand how this happened. I really truly do not."
The Wieden family has asked that gifts be made to Caldera Arts.
Contributing: Brian Bonilla