This week I noted with some interest that the international ad agency, “JWT,” was changing its name BACK to “J. Walter Thompson“, which had been its name since 1878, when James Walter Thompson bought and renamed the original shop, Carlton and Smith (which had been founded in 1865). So depending on your view, the agency this year is either 150 years old (which is the birthday their management will celebrate in December, or for purists … only 137 years old). Either way it has been around a long time and historically is one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies on the planet.
But back to this changing the name BACK business.
J. Walter Thompson adopted the “JWT” name in 2005, 18 years after it was acquired by WPP, currently the world’s largest agency holding group (notice WPP relies only on initials; that’s because it originally stood for “Wire and Plastic Products Plc”, a UK public company that the ultimate CEO of WPP, Martin Sorrell, acquired to be the corporate platform on which he would build his worldwide marketing services company).
That the agency’s senior managers are interested in reclaiming the name is not entirely surprising — as you can see, the logo above being used to celebrate the 150th anniversary, features the J. Walter Thompson Company name along with other agency legacy elements. You can read the full coverage article from the NY Times here.
My take on this this is that although it was somewhat ill advised to change to the soon-to-be jettisoned “JWT” moniker in the first place, it probably is better to fix something done wrong 9 years ago than to let it continue on interminably. I consider the advertising , agency business to be a “people” business, dealing with customers, employees, competitors, etc. I think a firm that does that should have a strong persona, a human one if you will. JWT is clean, succinct and, who knows, oh so catchy, but it doesn’t sound like a person, one I as a client would like to work with or as an employee, for. Think about that for a minute. Do EXXON, IBM , even the wildly successful BBDO agency seem to have actual human personalities?
In my mind advertising agencies, if they can logically claim so, should fly their founders’ flags. Sure Ogilvy (Ogilvy & Mather) and McCann (McCann Erickson) have shortened up a bit; but Leo Burnett, Wieden + Kennedy and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners retain their original names. Makes me think that initials are best left for monograms or indicated agreements or modifications on contracts.