What’s in a Name?

861310194Plenty. But obviously WPP doesn’t agree given that they’ve minimized two big ones, J. Walter Thompson and Y&R. They didn’t ask me (but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion) but I think they’re making a serious mistake in both cases.

For those unaware, WPP announced last week:

jwt-wonderman-content-2018Wunderman and J. Walter Thompson will become Wunderman Thompson

And that followed the recent announcement of VML and Y&R becoming VMLY&R

Clearly J. Walter Thompson and Y&R had seen far better business days in yesteryear. Each once were mega top tier ad agencies. In fact, J. Walter Thompson was the “granddaddy” of the industry.  It was founded in 1864 and later purchased by James Walter Thompson and renamed in 1878. That’s a lot of history

Young & Rubicam was a giant with a long history as well. It was formed in 1923 by John Orr Young and Raymond Rubicam in Philadelphia. The company moved to New York in 1926 as a condition of securing a contract with the newly formed Jell-O company.

But de facto WPP has now effectively killed both brand names. Yes they will continue to live, but in a lesser form. Better to have put them out of their misery, if they felt that way.

Obviously, this was far bigger than name changes and, in each case, integrating two agencies into one functioning unit is a big challenge (which often fails). But if you ask me, if I were in a position to hire an agency, I wouldn’t hire a business which demonstrates such a poor understanding of branding. Clearly WPP thinks that Wunderman with its strong analytics offering is a good partner for the more traditional (and declining) J. Walter Thompson and the combined entity will be even stronger. My 2 cents is that often agencies think that a merger of 1+1=2.5. However the reality of agency mashups is that 1+1 more often equals 1.5.

From a branding perspective, this is not a yearning for yesteryear, but if you were going to kill big brand names from yesteryear, then just do it. Neutering them is the weakest path. Like saying “We used to be somebody”, but now we’re not. They’d have been better off creating totally new brand names for these combined firms and building meaning into the new brand. Makes more sense that scotch taping names together.

Smart marketing agencies should know better.

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  1. ks says:

    “Often agencies think that a merger of 1+1=2.5. However the reality of agency mashups is that 1+1 more often equals 1.5.”

    Quote of the day. Applies to almost all business mergers, I’d suggest.

    Nicely done — thanks for this insight as always, Lonny.

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