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I never really wanted to get into advertising, says W+K’s Global Partner Tony Davidson

In an interaction with, Davidson takes us through his journey in advertising, and the challenges and fun moments

Archit Ambekar | Mumbai | October 20, 2016

Tony-Davidson Tony Davidson

“I never really wanted to get into advertising. I was never good at academics either. I wanted to get into typography; I loved letters, shapes and patterns,” says Tony Davidson, Global Partner, Wieden+Kennedy, as he speaks about how his career in advertising began.

During his recent visit to India, caught up with Davidson who took us through his three-decade journey in advertising, the various challenges he faced and the fun times. Excerpts:


Take us through your journey in advertising. You've been with W+K for about 16 years now. How has the organisation changed since the time you joined?

When I did graphic design, I thought I would end up doing graphics for advertising. I quite enjoyed the process of advertising and before I left college, I was offered a job by Boase Massimi Pollitt, which was then one of London’s hottest agencies. I think I’m lucky enough to be a part of a creative organisation.

A lot of my work didn’t see the light of day. I did okay. It was kind of frustrating then. Kim and I then started building ‘dynamatics’ that is drawing together and made them really well. Then I started seeing a lot of good work coming from America from a small agency called ‘Goodby Berlin’ and I wanted to work with Andy Berlin, who is the co-founder of the company.

I ended up working with Tim Delaney in Leagas Delaney. After spending about two years there, I went to John Hegarty, at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. He hired me, my partner Kim and told us that while he liked our work, we hadn't done anything famous. We found out what he meant when we created Flat Eric for Levi’s. And that was really tough.

Three years later, Dan Wieden came to us and told us that think about London. So we went and met him there. Wieden+Kennedy had been a complete failure in London for three years. At that time, it had was five creative directors and managing directors in a span of three years. It was then that we managed to turn it around. We did some great work with Nike – Run London. Then we ended up winning Honda. We made 10 years of good strong work, then won Lurpak and won our first global account – Nokia. So, that’s the journey. It’s not really something that I thought along, it just evolved.

In the last year and a half, the company has been challenging a bit more. We don’t want to talk about it yet, until we see the fruits of what comes out.


How do you see digital advertising growing globally? What are your thoughts on the India market?

It is kind of like, radio is going and everybody is going to switch to TV. I just see them as platforms. Everything is digital, your TV is digital too. So for me, it’s like I’ve just got more platforms. If you want to get housewives, it’s not there but there. So I think you just need to know about different platforms, the number of people on them so you can make a call as to what you might do. There are so many and that is scary and the speed at which they get consumed.


Tony-Davidson-1Have you ever lost a client? How much does it affect the organisation?

Yes, I’ve lost a lot of clients. I cried when I first lost a client. I get emotional when I lost a client. I’ve lost Nike, Umbro and I was sad about that. In the end business comes and goes. Like I knew Nokia was going and Tesco was going to come. The main thing is they were hurting our culture. If it is a bad client then it doesn’t affect the organisation, but if it is a good one then it might.


What is your next goal for the organisation?

I’m very keen on trying to evolve the business model a bit more so that we don’t rely so much or look beyond making revenues beyond the traditional model.


What are the challenges you have faced as a global advertising veteran?

Succession planning! I don’t think we are really good at it. We are drift in a good way and very independent. Succession planning includes taking risks and I don’t think any good company is breaking those processes.


You are one of the top global creatives according to major publications. You've worked with brands like Nike, Honda, Lurpak, Finish and many more. Which has been one of your most memorable pieces?

The Flat Eric project was an incredible thing to be involved with. From an enjoyment point, I would say Levi’s was with John Hegarty. What I also enjoy is working on Honda and Lurpak, because we’ve been working with them consistently for about 10 years now.


You've won accolades in Cannes, D&AD and many more. How do you rate yourself among other peer work?

I try not to look inwards our industry. I’m not a big fan of internal magazines like Campaign. I’d rather connect with outside people and be in Buzzfeed or be talked in normal publications than be inside the industry.


A work that has really inspired you.

I quite like stuff that disrupts the category. I remember back then that people went on to really hate Benetton’s work as they were like, what does it have to do with Benetton? The brand was portraying an attitude that the world should be. What Redbull and Redbull music have done is really inspiring.

There is no single piece of work that has inspired me. I am inspired by architects, by simple things like roads, and many more things. It depends on how one really sees it.


Could you give a sense of how pitches happen globally? Are they paid?

It’s very hard. If I were in a client’s position I would be like ‘I’d like to pitch.

But I think that it’s becoming quite that the margins are becoming quite less. It is very easy to say from this side of the fence. You look at an agency and you probably go there because of their work. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to chat a bit deeper and not do a pitch. I wished they would go on their gut feeling and chat about stuff, little bit strategic discussion. In the end it is like dating and finding the right partner.

I think it would be fairer to have pitch fees because if you are a small agency, it is very difficult to keep financing them.


Tony-Davidson-2One person you wished you’d work with?

I think I would like to work with Paul Smith. I think he is an interesting creative mind. Working with architects is something I would like. And lastly, I think I’d like to work with people for some environmental cause.


At a personal level, what are your hobbies like?

My hobbies are my kids. I try and spend as much time I can with them. I have lots of weird ideas in my head; I have all half furniture things in my house. I work with architects for that and that is a creative project for me.


Typically for you how does a normal day at work look like?

My diary is full of meetings and I’m trying to clean it up because for an ECD or Managing Director, half your diary should be empty and you should be walking the floor, getting to know people.


Apart from your father, do you have any other role model?

I think I like my father’s eccentricity. So I won’t call him my role model. The thing I liked about my father was that he could fix anything. He could make anything because he had an engineering brain.

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