By Nandita Chalam
JWT stalwarts speak out on the death of the agency.
Hindustan Thompson, JWT, J Walter Thompson and its latest avatar Wunderman Thompson – all died an instant death with the announcement that WPP was merging WT with VMLR and the combined entity would be known as VML. Those of us who felt happy that the Thompson name had at least endured even in the last merger – now had nothing more to cling to.
Poof – the agency that so many of us had spent decades in- was gone! The announcement left most gob smacked, though many said they had seen it coming. The news was met with anger, cynicism, sarcasm, I-told-you-so smugness, but most of all, especially among people who had spent over 10 years in the agency - by sadness. How could an agency that had built iconic brands such as Pepsi, Lux, Kurkure, Hero, Rin, Debeers, Boost, GoodKnight …not been able to preserve its own brand? HTA/JWT was known as the University of Advertising. I spoke to many who had spent decades at this university and have tried to record their feelings – politically correct, incorrect, passionate, indifferent, even relief…it’s all there.
17 years in JWT, last as Director in Charge of Unilever, JWT China, now a Musician and Writer.
“In retrospect, Wunderman-Thompson was a good example of bad branding from the world’s largest communications conglomerate. Why would they have delegated Thompson to second place in the first instance? More people surely knew Thompson rather than Wunderman. And in process kill an over 130 year old brand with much higher equity. Wunderman was a small entity. Thompson was a big entity. Wunderman-Thompson was a non-entity. So I am not even sure I should be shedding any tears that now both of them are dead."
22 years at JWT, last as Managing Partner, now Chairman and CEO, FCB Group India.
“Some of my happiest memories at work have been at JWT. Bondel Road, Kolkata was where it all started. Then I moved to JWT Delhi located in the ball bearing market in Jhandewalan. And finally JWT's then swanky office in Enkay Center, Gurgaon.
I'm eternally grateful to JWT for giving me the opportunity to work on the Pepsi business. The nine years I spent as head of the Pepsi business at JWT shaped me as an advertising person and gave me enormous professional success.
I've always said that people may come and people may go but JWT will go on forever. Today, I've been proven wrong.”
18 years at JWT, retired Creative Director.
"I mourn the death of a distinct company culture. The university of advertising rather lightly discarded by WPP.”
27 years at JWT over 2 stints, last as Executive Director, APAC, Wunderman Thompson, now an avid golfer.
"Everything I learnt about advertising, I learnt at HTA/JWT. So, if JWT was known as the University of Advertising, I was its proud student. It didn't just teach me advertising, it taught me leadership skills, of being a competent business person, of having conviction in our work. I grew up on stories of the agency 'resigning' a client rather than do a campaign we didn't believe in and thought was wrong for the brand. The confidence, the strut, JWT had, rubbed off on me. JWT gave me opportunities to grow even when I didn't think I was ready for them. And then backed me up, solidly. As a young Account Executive in 1990 I never thought I'd one day become the CEO of the company. The most important thing I learnt at Thompson was to value and respect our only asset - our people. I was lucky to report into and learn from some of the best people in the company and also had the privilege to lead some of the brightest professionals of our industry."
13 years at JWT, last as Executive Business Director, now Founder, BelieveTrinity.
“From a new business perspective, and I'm talking as late as this year, most clients we would meet or pitch to, would know us. They would say you don't really need to tell us about yourself, you're JWT! This decision has taken shape at a global level, where Thompson has lost its meaning probably, but there's huge equity that Thompson enjoys in Asia and India, which is being erased by the Mothership. They should’ve kept the brand alive in this part of the world.”
28 years in JWT, last as Managing Partner, now an Executive & Leadership Communication Coach
“As someone who joined HTA as a Management trainee and left JWT as Managing Partner, it was a strong part of my identity in the 28 years spent in the institution. As I read about the big change, I have mixed feelings . Immense pride on one hand about being part of a great organisation and being shaped by it indelibly and on the other a numbing sadness that we will always refer to Thompson in the past tense . In the hurly burly chaotic world of Advertising, JWT was the calming force, always staying true to its values of integrity, warmth , wisdom and brand stewardship. Good bye JWT. It was a privilege to serve you.”
11 years at HTA/JWT, last as ECD, now an independent Communications Consultant.
“The whole industry seems to be undergoing an existential crisis. HTA, which got a makeover and became JWT which was turned into WT has now decided to play mix-and-match with VMLY&R and, now we've got VML. Tomorrow, maybe just an emoji? Remember the good old days when brands stood the test of time? Now it feels like brands change their names as often as they change their office coffee filters. But what about the clash of cultures? HTA/JWT earned a solid brand equity over years of doing some fabulously famous work; will all that fame go with the name? Mergers seem to have become the norm If you read their 'we-merged-yay' notes, it’s like they all got the same fortune cookie: it's comical how every press release seems copy-pasted: look for similar buzzwords- 'excited,' 'future,' 'tailor-made for clients,' ‘optimized value’ '2.0'. The question is whether brands with storied histories lose their unique identity amidst these frequent changes. Does anyone even care anymore? In these times when even our country’s history, accomplishments, past leaders and names are put up for debate, someone somewhere must have thought who will say WTF to WT becoming VML?”
38 years at JWT, 26 of them as the National CD and South Asia CD.
I had to give the last word to Ivan, who has spent the longest time in the agency. In a characteristically well-crafted Facebook post, Ivan says,“The charade is now over. The gossamer thread, the Thompson name that was loosely tied to bulkier surnames has now been snipped; completing a euthanasia of JWT and creativity, started years ago. It didn't happen today, this slow euthanasia. It began when JWT was still JWT; around the time our global band of merry men got caught up with the wire and plastic products jingle; when Thompson's own big shots' eyes, aglint with lure of awards and profit, decided to bury the past; snuffing out the Thompson Way, the breath of Bullmore and Stephen King; the Owl and the Lamp, the wisdom and the magic and for good measure, burying the Commodore, J Walter Thompson. Remember? Our CEO in India too took down the old portrait of the Commodore and ferried it with his jolly lot, to be thrown into the Arabian sea some notts away from the Gateway of India.
They brought the Commodore back: and the Owl and the Lamp, but only as mortuary cards.
What's happening today is right and proper. The Thompson name is a mask that has been rightly removed. Both Wunderman T and the new entity are genetically different. And all you, once-Thompson family should rejoice that the masquerade is over. JWT is your book of memories now. Cherish it.”
The author, Nandita Chalam, has spent 19 years at HTA/ JWT, last as Senior VP & ECD, currently teaches Advertising at various Communication Institutions.