Corporate Makeover for J Walter Thompson

27 January 2005

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet," wrote the greatest English-speaking copywriter some five hundred years ago.

Tell that to WPP Group's venerable agency network J Walter Thompson, poised for rejuvenation under the initials by which it has been known since time immemorial. Or at least since it first opened its doors for business in December 1864.

New brooms sweep clean, avers the proverb. And none cleaner than an ad agency boss, in this case JWT chief executive Bob Jeffrey, who took up the post a year back.

In a trade addicted both to mergers and the cult of personality, initials have always been modish (BBDO, EWRR, RSCG MVBMS) - and these days, strictly in lower case.

And so in this year of grace 2005, farewell to James Walter Thompson in the name of progress and new business. Or so decrees Jeffrey. "We are radically changing the direction of the company and the change in identity is a clear signal of that change," he believes.

Despite the agency's recent global business wins from such giants as Samsung and HSBC Bank, the Wall Street Journal reports that "new business consultants" perceive JWT to have "a lackluster creative reputation from years of crafting ho-hum consumer goods ads for marketers such as Unilever, Ford Motor and Pfizer."

Ho-hum the ads may seem to those who worship the false god of 'creativity'- but there is an eternal advertising truth first revealed back in the 60s by Procter & Gamble: ads people 'like' are not necessarily those that impel them to buy. And by extension ads admired by new business consultants are even less likely to shift product.

Instead, Jeffrey wants clients to judge his firm by a range of criteria - and primarily by the amount of time JWT can persuade consumers to spend with its client's brands.

"People are finding more and more ways to get rid of advertising," he says. Noting the growing power of consumers to zap or otherwise ignore advertising, "we have to find ways of getting consumers to willingly participate."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff