David Kennedy, half of the team that started famous advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, died on Sunday at the age of 82.
Kennedy partnered with Dan Wieden to start the independent advertising agency in Portland on April Fool’s Day 1982.
W + K has grown into an advertising powerhouse, known for its iconic Nike campaigns, including Just Do It ads. The agency’s bold culture continued after Kennedy’s retirement in 1995. In a COVID-19 PSA created for the Stay Home, Save Lives campaign in Oregon last year, black letters in bold on a yellow screen simply read: DON’T KILL SOMEONE BY ACCIDENT.
The independence of the agency Kennedy helped create changed the ethics of advertising, said David Ewald, a professor in the advertising department at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications.
Independence allows them to push the limits. To create a truly courageous advertisement for their clients, Ewald said. You can see that in the work they did for the state of Oregon with Don’t Accidentally Kill Someone. Or the Kaepernick advertisement for Nike.
Ewald said agencies that respond to investors may need to exercise caution, which is not generally a hallmark of W + K’s work.
Kennedy was born in Kansas in 1939 to a family of wild borers. He grew up near the oilfields, became an apprentice welder as a teenager, and went on to study art.
At W + K, he cut a modest figure and he often returned after his retirement. He was known for his black hoodie and his humble demeanor.
You would never know he was one of the company’s two founders, said Ewald, who briefly worked at W + K.
In retirement, Kennedy pursued his own art. But he continued to work on the longtime W + K account for the American Indian College Fund, a source of pride for him. He also served on the board of directors of this group.
W + K smoothly launched a new campaign for the fund Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day and also the day after Kennedy died.
The advertising agency also temporarily renamed itself Kennedy + Wieden online in honor of its late founder.
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