David F. Kennedy, whose ad agency put Nike on the map, dies at 82

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David F. Kennedy, founder of the innovative advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, which created famous campaigns featuring Nike’s slogan “Just do it” and Lou Reed on a Honda scooter, died on October 10 at his home in Estacada, Oregon, near Portland. He was 82 years old.

The cause was heart failure, said Jeff Selis, former Wieden + Kennedy producer and family friend.

Wieden + Kennedy, which Mr. Kennedy started in Oregon with Dan Wieden in 1982, elevated Portland’s creative cachet at a time when advertising was primarily associated with New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. While many competitors were absorbed into gargantuan holding companies, the agency remained an independent boutique until his death, with eight offices around the world and around 1,500 employees.

In 1988, Mr. Kennedy was the Creative Director of the first Nike ad to include Mr. Wieden’s slogan “Just do it,” featuring an 80-year-old man named Walt Stack who ran 17 miles each morning. For Honda in 1985, the couple released grainy footage of Lou Reed, the former frontman of the Velvet Underground, telling viewers, “Don’t just walk” for perched on a Honda scooter, all to the tune of his 1973 hit song, “Walk on the Wild Side”.

Mr. Kennedy once said that his job satisfies a lifelong “compulsive fixation”.

“Creativity is like a plague that I have contracted that I cannot get rid of – just an itch that I have to scratch,” he said in a video on the website. New York Advertising Club. “If I was in a prison cell and threatened with execution, I would do something or something. “

David Franklin Kennedy was born May 31, 1939 in Wichita, Kan., The only child of Melinda Jane (Spoon) Kennedy, a bank administrator, and James Franklin Kennedy, a second generation wildcatter. He had what his Profile of the Advertising Hall of Fame called “an idyllic childhood, Tom Sawyer, trout fishing streams and rivers which he had no idea were world class” in Oklahoma and other states along the face east of the Rocky Mountains.

His first job, at the age of 13, was as an apprentice welder. At first he wanted to be a geologist, but art had a stronger influence. His childhood hero was Bill Mauldin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and editorialist, whose work Mr. Kennedy recounted while learning to draw.

After spending a day and a night on an oil rig, he decided to give college a try. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1962 with a degree in engraving and metal sculpture.

He also served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Mr. Kennedy met Kathleen Murphy in 1961 in Colorado through a fellowship brother who was dating his sister. They married in 1963, moved to Chicago, and had five children. He is survived by his wife; his daughters, Cathlin, Erinn and Siobhan; and one son, Brendan. Another son, Ian, died in 2016.

In Chicago, Mr. Kennedy worked at agencies such as Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Needham, and Benton & Bowles. But after more than 16 years in the city, he wanted to return to the west. In 1979 he was hired in Portland as art director for the agency then known as McCann-Erickson, where Mr. Wieden worked as a copywriter.

“Instead of quietly taking the Chicago Northwestern train to work, he was now driving an old Chevy pickup truck with Miles Davis or Flatt and Scruggs playing on the radio,” his daughter Erinn Kennedy said in an email.

Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wieden then moved to the William Cain agency, where they worked on advertising plywood for a lumber supplier and doing presentations for a small growing Beaverton company – Nike.

Feeling stifled by creativity, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wieden set out on their own. They created Wieden + Kennedy from a union hall with a borrowed card table as a desk and used a pay phone down the hall. At one point, they were working in a restaurant, buying coffees to avoid being kicked out.

Nike was their first customer. Mr. Wieden’s father, who had run Gerber Advertising in Portland, helped them with the basics of running a business. He grew up quickly.

Much of Wieden + Kennedy’s success was linked to Nike and popular campaigns like “Bo Knows,” starring baseball and football player Bo Jackson, and “Mars and Mike,” starring filmmaker Spike Lee and basketball star Michael Jordan.

“The bigger Nike got, the bigger we got,” Kennedy once said. “Two guys in Oregon are doing this wild stuff – we got lucky.”

Wieden + Kennedy broke with the brilliant tradition of Madison Avenue. He set up a basketball court at his seat and had draft beer. The New York Times described it as a “temple of outrage”.

Ken Kesey, a counterculture figure and author of the novel ‘Flight Over a Cuckoo’s Nest’, attended the agency’s 10th anniversary celebration and delivered what Mr. Selis said was l One of Mr. Kennedy’s favorite compliments: “You could teach the Hells Angels how to party.

For years, Mr. Kennedy appeared in the office everyday in a faded blue jeans uniform and denim shirt, leading to employees gifting him 50 pairs of Levi’s pants on his 50th birthday. His habit of carrying a bunch of keys hanging from his belt buckle led at least one executive’s wife to mistake him for a janitor.

He was also known to mentor young colleagues. Although it won almost every major industry accolade in its first decade, the agency has lined its walls with employee portraits rather than accolades.

Quieter than the more talkative Mr. Wieden, Mr. Kennedy was meticulous. His writing inspired his colleagues to create a typeface for internal use. (It’s called Kennedy.) Long after his colleagues turned to computers, he still preferred to design with a pen, an X-Acto knife, and a cutting board.

Mr. Kennedy retired from the agency in 1993, although he continued to report to the office several days a week until the start of the pandemic.

He donated some of his time to the American Indian College Fund, a nonprofit. His final advertising campaign because this group appeared in The Times the morning after his death.


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