WPP’s recent decision to merge the J.Walter Thompson brand into Wunderman, to create Wunderman Thompson, has prompted much consternation in the ad community – especially amongst alumni like me. Discarding such amazing brand heritage is astonishing, particularly when that brand is synonymous with the invention of advertising, and doubly so when it’s only four years since they reversed a previous decision to ditch the full name for the more ‘modern-sounding’ JWT, having realised it was actually a bit of a tactical error.
Even more bizarre is that a branding agency would make a major announcement like this without having a new combined brand identity ready (see incompatible logo hash, above) and that, 6 weeks after the announcement, the URL and website remains firmly Wunderman, with the ‘big announcement’ relegated to the (old) news pages.
It’s been a tough few years for brands, with even mighty stalwarts of the high street falling like dominoes. When brands like Woolworths, HMV and BHS can’t beat the odds, it seems extraordinary that anyone, let alone professional brand guardians, would voluntarily bin such an incredible brand. It especially galls those of us who contributed to that success over the years and remain hugely proud of those names on our CVs (see also my eulogy to Orange).
As a brand strategist, I employ the principal of it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I use something I call a Brand Barometer, to place ‘troubled’ older brands on a Heritage vs. Baggage scale. The scales have to be VERY heavily tipped to the baggage end – with absolutely no saving graces or possibility of a turnaround – before I would even consider a re-brand (if you need convincing, just look at Skoda’s brand history). In this case, I would like to see the metrics that suggested J.Walter Thompson had any baggage at all.
So if you are the custodian of a great brand, please remember that you are exactly that. The custodian. Look after it, refresh it, adjust the positioning, keep it relevant by all means. But junk it entirely? In this case, wilfully discard over 150 years of advertising heritage when start-ups would kill for the sort of awareness and reputation of a brand like JWT? Why on earth would you do that?
We’ll raise a glass to the Commodore at the JWT reunion Martin Jones is planning for the spring – and keep our fingers crossed that one day, someone will be brave enough to reverse this short-sighted decision, too. In the meantime, here’s a link to my 2014 post celebrating the magic that was J. Walter Thompson.