Levi’s and Wieden + Kennedy parted ways this week.
Ad Age reports that people familiar with the business said that differences over creative direction were at the core. Uh, okay.
James Curleigh, who left Keen Footwear (in Portland) to become president of Levi’s in July 2012, said in a statement, “We would like to thank Wieden+Kennedy for their creative energy and engagement over the past five years. The team supported us through a significant period in the Levi’s brand evolution.”
Blah, blah, blah. No one wants to air their dirty laundry. It’s not professional to say W+K is hard to work with, they don’t listen well and that TV is only “so important” to brands these days.
Speaking of TV’s importance, let’s take a look at the following Wieden-made spot for Levi’s.
It’s a nice piece of stand alone creative, but it doesn’t stand alone, does it? No, it feels a lot like Nike’s “Just Do It.”
What’s wrong with looking and feeling like Nike? Simply put, you do not want your agency’s work to follow or emit a certain style. You do want the work to be consistently intelligent and flawlessly rendered. But style belongs to the client.
Maybe W+K is paying the price this time for putting their stamp on Levi’s. Luckily, for the masters of The Pearl, the price isn’t too high, as Levi’s is not a big spender on advertising.
It occurs to me to ask why an agency develops a style in the first place, and how to best guard against it.
We can start by understanding that the people who make award-winning TV commercials are part of a very small circle. In reality, it’s a cozy little club that meets once a year in Cannes. Win a Lion, work in Portland. The catch to this creative elite-only routine is obvious enough; insular recruiting leads to “same think” and “same think” begets an agency style.
Maybe this is the takeaway for all of us: Disrupt thyself to save thyself. Even if you already rule.