In more ways than one, Wieden + Kennedy continues to be the ultimate trophy agency. Imagine the windfall a Maurice Levy, Martin Sorrell or other holding company leader would toss its way as few prized agencies are left to acquire.
Yet, the Portland, Ore.-based shop continues to hold tight to its independence. Perhaps it's because executives fear creative freedom would wane.
That might endanger its opportunities to keep landing hardware for tremendous creative work, which was on display again Thursday. While “Modern Family” and Jon Hamm may have gotten the big headlines as the Emmy nominees were released, ads from W+K grabbed three of the five nominations in the “Outstanding Commercial” category.
A win would give it a streak of four statues in a row.
Count on that.
In 2011, the agency won for the stunning Chrysler spot starring Eminem, maybe the best Super Bowl ad ever. In 2010, a spot from its indelible “Smell Like A Man, Man” Old Spice campaign took home the Emmy. In 2009, the Emmy went to W+K for a Super Bowl Coke ad featuring insects stealing a bottle from a man snoozing as “Peter and the Wolf” played.
W+K has had multiple nominees in the "Outstanding Commercial" category each year since 2009 and has received a nomination in each of the last six years.
(Technically, the Academy gives the awards for the spots, not the agencies behind them. Maybe it’s so clients feel more connected.)
This year, W+K’s three nominees are for the Chrysler Super Bowl ad with Clint Eastwood; a Target spot for spring apparel and other products; and a Procter & Gamble ad that’s part of the “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign.
The other two nominees in the “Outstanding Commercial” category this year come from Deutsch. Both are spots for Volkswagen.
No one would say a make-up call was involved. Or would they? Deutsch’s beloved Volkswagen spot with the mini-Darth Vader that ran in the 2011 Super Bowl somehow escaped being nominated last year.
This year, both nominated spots also involved the Super Bowl. One was a pre-game teaser, while the other ran in the game. Both feature dogs, which automatically makes them strong Emmy contenders since the voters presumably follow Americans with soft spots for canines and babies. And, both play off the success of the Darth Vader ad the year before.
The teaser, tabbed “The Bark Side,” features a chorus of 11 dogs – some with links to “Star Wars” characters -- performing the movie’s theme song with their barking. The other features a dog getting in shape, so it can chase down a speedy Volkswagen. The spot cuts to critics suggesting the dog was funnier than the “Vader kid” the year before and an angry Darth returns.
The W+K spot for Target features a slew of people in colorful clothes arriving in town in a hot air balloon and running all over – unveiling Target products and clothes -- before returning and flying off. All the while, a popular French children’s song plays.
The P&G spot is superb. It offers stirring music as mothers all over the world are highlighted with their devotion to raising Olympians. It has heart, soul and a tenor of worldwide unity. In any other year, it would likely be the winner.
But this time, the Emmy will go to the unforgettable “Halftime in America” Chrysler ad. The excellent photography and inspiration are similar to the P&G ad, but Eastwood tips the scales.
Americans have grown dispirited and for many the next phase doesn’t look any better. Yet, even though he’s an actor, it’s tough not to have hope when the rock-ribbed Eastwood says: “This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world’s going to hear the roar of our engines.”
Even Republicans probably felt energized when watching. But then, many caught themselves. With Eastwood’s tribute to a Detroit comeback, they began to blast the ad for serving as a de facto President Obama campaign spot. An ad paid for by Chrysler to thank the president for the auto bailout.
The good thing for W+K is Emmy voters are attached to the entertainment industry. That means loads of Democrats.