WKE Is A Pure Entertainment Play. My Advice: Dirty It Up.

Aaron Mesh of Portland alt weekly, Willamette Week, spent several weeks putting together a cover story on Wieden + Kennedy Entertainment (WKE), the division of the agency that sees itself as a budding north-of-Hollywood studio.
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It’s a long story, but here’s the heart of the matter:

What it lacks is a business model. The project turns upside down the calculation that guides most advertising production: Instead of doing work at the behest of clients, WKE will make an entertainment product and hope it becomes popular enough that clients will clamor to underwrite it.
This is nearly unprecedented at the agency.
“We don’t know if it’ll be funded next year,” says Aaron Rose, WKE’s creative director. “Nobody fucking knows who we are.”

I feel Rose’s pain, but he’s also giving voice to the conundrum. To be a person of importance at W+K, you need to be a creative director on Nike, Target, Coke, etc. If WKE’s mission was to serve those clients with branded entertainment solutions, then everyone would know who Rose and his cohorts are. Guaranteed.
Here’s what Dan Wieden has to offer the newspaper on the project’s future:

“We’re in a place where we don’t need permission to do this, so we’re just hauling ass,” he tells WW.
But does he think the WKE project be funded in 2010? “Do you think you will?” he replies to the reporter. “Where it succeeds, it will get funding. It’s that amoeba kind of thing. Where it gets traction, it moves.”

Okay, so where is this amoeba of a content department moving exactly? Aside from seeking to produce films–a subject not taken up by Willamette Week–WKE’s current focus is a DIY Internet radio and TV station. Naturally, such a station needs shows and hopefully the better ones surface to become hits.
Yes, there is a better way.
Solve marketing problems with original content for Coke, Nike, Target and the rest. Then the projects will be funded properly, and of equal importance, the people inside the building who make ads can also help make the agency’s entertainment product. If there was a Coke-sponsored program on WKE’s daily Webcast, the best writers and designers in the building would be hungry to take part.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.