The advertising world loses an icon as Wieden+Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden passes away at 77

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Last week, the world lost an advertising icon. News broke over the weekend that industry trailblazer Dan Wieden passed away at 77 years old of age.

Dan was a creative leader that helped shape the advertising industry into what it is today. He is best known for being the genius behind “Just Do It,” the iconic Nike tagline that’s recognized around the world, and for co-founding Wieden+Kennedy, one of the world’s most creative global agencies, with David Kennedy.

For his outstanding contributions to the creative industry, he was awarded the Lion of St Mark at the 59th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Dan was only the second ad executive to ever be granted this honor, and the honor came to no surprise given his brilliance and innovation that was felt throughout the advertising world. You can watch his moving acceptance speech here

Not a stranger to Cannes Lions, he was also the one who introduced the Titanium Lions category back in 2003, defining it as an award “for work that makes the industry stop in its tracks and reconsiders the way forward,” which is a quality his own creative work across the globe for huge clients, such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Heineken, Chrysler, Levi’s, and more, has shown.

His death comes as a huge blow throughout the industry, with many in the industry grieving him not only as the creative maven with a vision that has repeatedly inspired them but also as their friend.

John C. Jay, a global executive creative director who worked with Dan as a partner at Wieden+Kennedy, posted a letter to Dan on Instagram following the news of his passing.

“Your greatness is so much broader than the advertising and marketing industry and deeper than any recorded history of you. Your legacy is unmatched because you led so many others to their greatness through your inspiration, discipline and a fearlessness…all with a never compromising kindness,” he wrote. “Thank you Dan Wieden, for setting us free to soar on our own. I promise to honor your legacy and the standards of humanity that you have set forth. My creativity will serve a higher purpose. You have taught me how to live my life.”

“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,” Colenso BBDO Head of Strategy Rob Campbell shared on LinkedIn. “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.”

Photo: Eric Cruz with Dan Wieden

DDB North America Executive Creative Director Eric Cruz also wrote about his time working with Dan at Wieden + Kennedy. “I spent nearly 12 years with W+K because of the unique and inimitable culture that Dan Wieden, David Kennedy, and John C. Jay built worldwide. But perhaps the greatest gift that Dan enabled in every creative that walked through W+K is to ‘self-actualize,’ to find the you [that] you were meant to be and challenge that person to live up to their potential,” Eric said. “W+K was the umbrella that allowed and afforded you that freedom, an invisible force that rings true to this day.”

BBH founder Sir John Hegarty, who, like Dan, is a Lion of St Mark awardee and advertising pioneer, also posted a message talking about his history with the late creative leader, who was both his professional rival and peer, and how Dan has made him and the industry better.

“When legends go, the world pauses and reflects on their achievements. What they’ve built, inspired, and changed. And so we will all do that, in our own way, on hearing the sad news of Dan’s passing. I was lucky enough to get to know him, share a platform with him and witness close up his kindness, creativity, and humor,” he said.

“We both started our agencies in 1982. BBH on March 29th. Wieden and Kennedy on April 1st. April Fools’ Day. Dan’s humor embedded in the agency from day one,” he recalled. “We were fierce rivals, but like with any rivalry, I felt we fed off each other’s achievements. Picasso needed Matisse, McEnroe Borg, Lennon needed McCartney, we needed Wieden’s. So thank you, Dan, for helping us be better. You may have gone but your work lives on.”

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