What The Hell Do These Names Mean? (Agency Cheat Sheet)

Even though advertising agencies should be the experts in branding, the own brand names of agencies are traditionally quite cryptic. The usual method of naming are the initials of the founders like with the law firms. Whether the reason is egoism, tradition or just plain unimaginativeness, this list proves that in order to succeed as an advertising head, you have to have a distinctive name. No matter whether you are planner from Paris or copywriter from Portland, it is crucial to get those initials to the door.

I have collected most of the current biggest networks here and added some now-defunct but historically important agencies. There are many agencies missing, but add your own in the comment section below. I started compiling the list when I started to get lost of all the different acronyms and holding companies. I think the most funniest/annoying names are when two companies have merged and there might be two odd-looking sets of acronyms within each other.

NOTE: I have added mainly the ones which are based on the agency founder´s name, because those are the ones which usually are the trickiest to remember. And couple of others, if there is a good story behind it.

Agency Cheat Sheet: What the hell do these names mean?

1. Omnicom

Omnicom was formed in 1986 in a merger between DDB, BBDO & Needham Harper Steers and is currently the biggest advertising holding company. Jim Carrey worked in company called Omnicom in Truman Show.

BBDO: Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. 1891 George Batten founded Batten & Co. Bruce Barton & Roy Durstine open an agency called Barton & Durstine on 1919, Alex Osborn joins during later that year. Batten company and BDO merged in 1928. Alex Osborn invented brainstorming technique.
DDB: Doyle Dane Bernbach, founded in 1949 by Maxwell Dane (promotions), Ned Doyle (account), Bob Gage (art director), Bill Bernbach (copywriter) & Phyllis Robinson (a copywriter). Heralded as the first creative agency, where art directors and copywriters worked side to side. Agency behind the legendary Volkswagen “Think Small” -ad.
TBWA: The EU equivalent of the advertising agencies. Founded in 1970 in Paris by Bill Tragos (American with greek-descent management), Claude Bonnange (French planner), Uli Wiesendanger (Swiss copywriter) & Paulo Ajroldi (Italian account guy). Started to really expand in 00´s.
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners: Agency founded in 1983 by Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein & Andy Berlin in San Francisco. Andy Berlin left and the company was renamed. Agency behind the famous “Got Milk?”-campaign.

2. WPP
Wire & Plastic Products was founded in 1977 and was originally manufacturer of shopping baskets. In 1985, Sir Martin Sorrell, the former financial director of Saatchi & Saatchi, bought the listed company and started building worldwide marketing services company buying notable advertising networks.

JWT: James Walter Thompson, founded in 1878. James Walter Thompson bought his old agency for total of 1,300 dollars (500 for the company, 800 for the furniture). Stephen King from JWT London has been said to invent the account planning function.
Young & Rubicam: Copywriter Raymond Rubicam & account man James Orr Young met each other while working in N.W. Ayer. Founded in 1923 although started to get succesful during the depression. George Gallup was working in Y&R, before founding his own marketing research firm.
Ogilvy & Mather: Originally Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather founded in 1948. Anderson Hewitt was the first CEO and account man from JWT. David Ogilvy´s brother was the managing director of Mather & Crowther and S.H. Benson another well-known British agency who invested to this american start-up. As the history would show, only the first name is remembered.

3. Publicis
Marcel Bleustein started Publics in 1927. Current Publicis CEO Maurice Levy started in the company as an IT director. Group has a strategic alliance with Dentsu (5.).

BBH: Founded in 1982 by John Bartle, Nigel Bogle & John Hegarty. Responsible for the legendary Levi´s ads, which made me to take attention during commercial breaks.
Leo Burnett: Founded in 1935 in Chicago by Leo Burnett with bowl of apples on its reception desk. Agency behind legendary characters such as Marlboro Man & Tony The Tiger.
Saatchi & Saatchi: Originally Cramer & Saatchi founded by Charles Saatchi (copywriter) and Ross Cramer (art director). The collaboration did not work so Charles brought on his brother Maurice Saatchi (publisher at the time) and Saatchi & Saatchi started in 1970. Expanded rapidly through mergers & acquisitions and during the height was also trying to buy an own bank.
To make things complicated there are actually two Saatchi agencies at the moment. After they were ousted from Saatchi & Saatchi, Charles & Maurice founded another agency in 1995 called M&C Saatchi.

4. Interpublic
Interpublic started operating on 1961 as the world´s first marketing services holding company then comprising of McCann-Erickson and McCann-Marschalk. It went public ten years later.

Draftfcb: Foote, Cone & Belding was originally founded 1873 (Lord & Thomas Ad Agency, then) merged in 2006 with Draft, which was founded in 1978 as a direct marketing agency Kobs & Brady.
McCann Erickson: Founded in 1911, then H.K. McCann. Got its name because of the merger with A.W. Erickson agency. Erickson made fortune investing in other things besides advertising, such as the company that invented Technicolor film.
Lowe & Partners Worldwide: Frank Lowe, former account man for CDP, set up Lowe Howard-Spink in 1981. Merged with Ammirati Puris Lintas in 2000.
R/GA: Founded in 1977 by brothers Richard & Robert Greenberg (then known as R/Greenberg Associates). The agency is known for restructuring its focus every nine years, being currently in fourth cycle as an advertising agency with digital focus. It started as computer-assisted film-making company.

5. Dentsu
Originally founded in 1901 as Japan Advertising Ltd. and Telegraphic Service Co. by Hoshiro Mitsunaga. Changed its name to Dentsu in 1955. Dentsu has a near monopoly in the Japanese market, being double the size of the biggest competitors. Dentsu means electronic communications in Japanese, if I have understood correctly.

6. Havas
Havas was originally the first news agency created in 1835.That Havas was acquired by Vivendi in 1998 and is now known Vivendi Universal Publishing. The advertising group Havas is actually former subsidiary of original Havas (Havas Advertising, formerly Eurocom) but bought the rights for the name Havas in 2004.

Euro RSCG: Roux Seguela was founded in 1968. RSCG was founded in 1978 by Bernard Roux, Jacques Seguela, Alain Cayzac, Jean- Michel Goudard. Havas advertising arm Eurocom bought RSCG, thus the name nowadays.

Some legendary agencies:

Wieden & Kennedy: The agency was founded by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, who met while working in McCann Ericsson on Nike Account. Nike become their first client and is their client still (with brief stints elsewhere, like Chiat/Day). Is surprisingly still independent.
Droga5: Founded by David Droga, Andrew Essex, Judd Merkel and Duncan Marshall in 2006. Do not know where the five comes to the name. The agency behind Jay-Z Decoded campaign.
CP+B: Founded in 1965 by Sam Crispin in Miami, although got famous much later when Chuck Porter & Alex Bogusky joined the company in 1988 as partners. Currently only Porter is part of the company. The agency behind Subservient chicken.
PKL: Papert Koenig Lois was the first agency that went public in 1962.
Wells Rich Greene: Stewart Greene, Dick Rich & Mary Wells founded the agency behind the “I love New York” slogan and logo. Later was bought by BDDP, and was closed in 1998.
BDDP: French agency founded by Jean-Claude Boulet, Jean-Marie Dru, Marie-Catherine Dupuy and Jean-Pierre Petit. After couple of rounds of mergers is eventually nowadays TBWA Paris and Jean-Marie Dru is the chairman of TBWA Worldwide. Dru is the inventor of disruption.
CDP: One of the most legendary british agencies Collet Dickenson Pearce was founded in 1960 on april fools day by John Pearce, Ronnie Dickenson & John Collett. Was the springboard for many advertising (and other) legends such as Sir Alan Parker & Ridley Scott. Was closed in 2000 and acquired by Dentsu.
Boase Massimi Pollitt: Stanley Pollitt, Martin Boase & Gabe Massimi founded the agency. Stanley Pollitt is said to be the inventor of the account planning function. In eighties BDDP tried to buy the agency, but it merged with DDB, the company was a while called BMP DDB (a name to remember) and is now DDB London.
Chiat/Day: Originally Jay Chiat & Associates, founded in 1968. Despite or because of the reputation of rebellious and pushing-the-envelope creativeness, the agency was also one of the first agencies alongside Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to introduce account planning in American agencies. Now part of the TBWA.
AMV: Abbot Mead Vickers was founded in 1977 by Peter Mead, Adrian Vickers & David Abbott and celebrated that with an and saying “Watch out Colletts, we’re only £34 million behind you.” Agency was sold to BBDO in 1991 and AMV BBDO became the biggest UK advertising agency in 1997.
HHCL: Robert Howell, Steve Henry, Axel Chaldecott & Adam Lury founded the agency in 1987. Was voted “Agency of the decade” in 2000 by Campaign magazine. The agency behind “You Know When You’ve Been Tango’d”-ads which were on heavy rotation when I used to watch MTV. Company was closed in 2007.
Ammirati Puris Lintas: Aargh, my head starts hurting reading this merger history (it is so freaking complicated). Read the whole history from the AdAge Encyclopedia.

Mark Tungate: Adland: A Global History Of Advertising (Highly recommended book of the advertising history)
AdAge Encyclopedia

Luckily we have gotten some new agencies which are not following the tradition of odd acronyms (Naked, Mother, Inferno, Possible, etc.). Hopefully that will be the way of the future.

That being said, if I ever found an agency, it will have my initials on it.

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3 thoughts on “What The Hell Do These Names Mean? (Agency Cheat Sheet)

  1. This is so right. Very few of the big ones have been named the right way. Maybe the right way is the wrong way, after all…

  2. True, and when the agencies were founded the name-approach was quite wise: The name was the strongest & many times the only brand they had.

    I think one challenge is also to keep the heritage alive in the agencies, but so that the legacy will not become burden.

  3. Jodi Stuart says:

    Reblogged this on The Little Nuggets and commented:
    An interesting article

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