The passing of Dan Wieden, one of the advertising's most influential figures, has sparked an outpouring from industry executives honoring the creator of the timeless “Just Do it” Nike campaign. Here we gather recollections and remembrances from industry leaders in interviews, emails and social media posts about the co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy and the legacy he has left the ad world.
This story will be updated as more comments are gathered.
Words fail me. You just had to be near to him to understand how brightly he burned. There are so many of us, across the world, feeling a little more lost tonight.
Dan always called Wieden+Kennedy a “cosmic joke.” And I always understood and appreciated that he’d put it that way with such levity because he was never overly reverential or worthy about the place. But on a day like today, when you’re thinking about all that he did for this business and seeing all that it did for the companies it’s touched and you’re also connecting with and reconnecting with so, so many people who’ve all been a part of this thing that only exists because of what he and Dave started, it doesn’t feel like a cosmic joke at all. It feels like a cosmic gift that he’s given to us. A gift that we collectively need to protect and grow and evolve for more and more generations to come.
Dan was a benchmark and lighthouse for my entire career. Beyond the consistency of brilliance he created, it was the culture and generosity of people he fostered that was even more impressive. As a young creative in Australia, Asia and the U.K., I looked at his work as the gold standard. Many years later, when I started my own company in New York, I quickly realized he was the gold standard. His advice, praise and encouragement was always meaningful.
If advertising could have holy people, Wieden was certainly one of them. He spoke to those of us well beyond his own company, telling us it was okay–critical, in fact–to do things that had never been done before. Perhaps more importantly, he convinced us all that those things were already inside of us, and created a world in which it was safe to let them out. We competed with W+K hard and they returned the favor. One day, we said it would be good to let off steam at some kind of joint agency event. Dan suggested a tug of war at the Oregon-California border. We can still hear him chuckling about it.
Dan Wieden’s impact on the Nike brand can not be overstated. Without Dan, David Kennedy, and Wieden+Kennedy there is no Nike, and without Nike there is no Wieden+Kennedy. Dan’s vision of human potential, desire to impact culture in meaningful ways, and his lifelong commitment to diversity in all ways has shaped the Nike brand over the decades and led to the best work in its history. I am humbled that I was able to work with Dan at the start of my career, and his lessons have shaped the way I see the work and the responsibility of our calling.
As I said on stage this year at Cannes as the jury president of Titanium (Dan Wieden was the first Titanium jury president)—I have never met Mr. Wieden, but he is the reason I stand here on this stage today. In my opinion he is the most influential creative leader in the history of our industry. My condolences to his family and to all the employees of Wieden+Kennedy.
On my last day at Wieden+Kennedy, Dan Wieden said, “Goodman, you’re leaving too soon. Your best work is ahead of you. My insecure side heard, “He just told you your work so far is crap!” My other insecure side said to myself, “Prove him right. Make him proud.”
A decade later, thanks in large part to [my lontime creative partner] Jesse Coulter...I found myself walking out of the Cannes Palais alongside Jesse, each holding one of our first two Grand Prix.
As fate would have it, Dan Wieden was awarded the Cannes Lion of St. Mark (Advertising’s Lifetime Achievement Award) during the very same ceremony that night! So there we were, Jesse, Dan and I walking out of the auditorium next to each other as people started popping photos. [It was] my proudest professional moment. I’ve never seen Jesse smile like that before or since. But then in the next shot, that's Dan saying, “Goodman, you fucker! I told you your best work was ahead of you!!”
And in the third shot there were no words exchanged, but as I look at it now and see the look on Dan’s face as he looks at me, I think maybe I did actually make him proud? That last moment is more important to me than any other in my career. If I actually, for even a millisecond, made Dan Wieden proud… that’s my lifetime achievement award right there.
I’d say I’m heartbroken that he is gone, but any heartbreak is only in that each day Dan is not here is a missed opportunity for him to affect more lives the way he affected mine and many thousands like mine. I’d say I’m heartbroken that he’s gone, but he’s not gone; because Dan led one of those rare lives during which he gave so much to so many that Dan Wieden can never really die. Dan Wieden is alive in every person he ever met. Dan, thank you for that and so much more. I love you.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that everything good, and irreverent, and artistic about modern advertising can in someway way be linked to Dan Wieden. He showed that advertising doesn’t have to be something that just interrupts entertainment and culture—it can be entertainment and culture. Beyond that he showed that you can keep your integrity and still be at the top of this industry.
As news of Dan’s passing spread, there was a common thread: the indelible impact Dan has had on so many lives, including the Wieden+Kennedy alumni here at Opinionated. Our hearts are heavy with sadness today, but also filled with enormous gratitude for the many gifts Dan gave us. A culture that allowed us to walk in stupid, fail harder and do the best work of our lives. The opportunity to build careers with the smartest, most insanely talented and fun people in this business. And most importantly, the chance to make friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. Our love goes out to Dan’s family and to all our other friends and colleagues who are grieving with us today.
It's a devastating day in Wieden+Kennedy’s history and the industry at large. But oddly enough, and from my seat I can state this with absolute conviction, it feels he accomplished what he dedicated his life to: permission to be creative and use that creativity to actualize opportunity for others, redefine our realities, and do it all from a genuine, unpretentious place. He’s left this thing of ours better than he found it. And that makes him a legend. My heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family.
“You’re a good little writer,” he once told me. I couldn’t believe it. Gobsmacked was the best way to describe how I felt upon receiving such praise from him. I’ve carried these words with me ever since. Anytime the doubt creeps in, they re-emerge to remind me to cut it out. This morning before I even opened my eyes, I heard these words again, in his voice. And then I read the news. Thank you, Dan. For everything.
Some cultures believe immortality comes from building a legacy that will be remembered for generations. No one in the marketing world has earned that status more than Dan Wieden. He will be with us forever. Gutted, but thankful.
I am a huge fan and admirer and also completely unworthy of weighing in on the life of a legend who created something so legendary and so beautiful. So i send love to his family and those who had the fortune of knowing him.
He built an incredible global creative business that never compromised on integrity and innovation. He leaves behind a unique legacy of the power of ideas and the power of building long-term client partnerships to drive creativity.
I didn't have the privilege of knowing Dan, but what he believed in and created for so many is needed more than ever today. A place to be weird, wild, and to fail hard. A place where truth is cared more about than power. It's a sad day, not only for our industry, but for the world. The community he inspired and created will ensure to carry on his legacy.