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Superbrands case studies: J Walter Thompson

Originally published in Business Superbrands 2002. The book reviews the UK's strongest Business-Business brands as judged by the independent Business Superbrands Council.

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J Walter Thompson is one of the foremost brands within the global communications marketplace, which commanded worldwide expenditure of over $1,000bn in 2000. The UK market, prominent within the global picture and accounting for some $77.5bn of worldwide expenditure, enjoyed growth of 10% during the same period.

Although the visibility has traditionally been with above-the-line advertising agencies, the marketplace has evolved over recent years to reflect clients' requirement for marketing partners able to deliver integrated solutions to their business problems. Hence the emergence, and increasing dominance, of communications groups such as WPP, Omnicom, Havas and the Interpublic Group of Companies, as well as the broadening of offerings within advertising agencies themselves.


J Walter Thompson (JWT) London has been in existence for 75 years, and works with an enviable and unusually long-standing client list -- including a number who have been with the agency since the 1920s, which is in itself a noteworthy achievement.

The agency is widely acknowledged to have continually excelled in a number of areas. JWT is the home of enduring brands. The agency is well known for creating, nurturing and building brands that are strong yet flexible enough to grow and evolve over time, adapting to changing circumstances and continually staying one step ahead of the consumer. Some of the best remembered and most iconic campaigns over the years have come from JWT including Kit Kat's "Have a break", DeBeers' "A diamond is forever", Kellogg's Frosties and Tony the Tiger, BT's "Beattie" campaign, the Andrex puppy and the Oxo family to name but a few.

JWT leads by example and is itself a major brand which has continually reinvented itself, holding on to its own enduring values while also moving forwards. One such enduring value is the overall standard of client service on which JWT prides itself. JWT has always believed in working as a partner with its clients, jointly setting objectives and working together to achieve shared goals. The impact of this attitude is clear -- in Marketing Week's annual survey of marketing directors, JWT has been voted Best UK Advertising Agency for nine out of the past 11 years.

JWT has also enjoyed ongoing success in the IPA Effectiveness Awards, reflecting the agency's investment and belief in the importance of planning and outstanding strategic thinking. In the overall historical league table of IPA Effectiveness Awards, JWT is the second most awarded agency.

JWT is an agency which believes in its responsibility to solve business problems by applying creativity not only in the development of the advertising itself, but also in the preceding strategic development. The ability to tap into consumer motivations is highlighted by successes such as the launch of the innovative, small-format Glamour magazine, whose monthly circulation targets were exceeded by over 100% within just a few months of launch; the introduction of Kit Kat Chunky, hailed as the most successful confectionery launch of the past ten years; or the launch of NTL's broadband internet service, which achieved 73% of its total sales target in just one month.

But it is on its creative work that an agency is ultimately judged. Here, too, JWT has enjoyed great success, winning a large number of awards including most recently D&AD, Cannes Gold, and a special Award of Honour at Cannes for the powerful "Special Olympics" film.


JWT was founded on December 5 1864 when William J Carlton and Edmund A Smith set up in business in New York as advertising agents selling space in religious journals. James Walter Thompson joined the company in 1868 as a bookkeeper clerk. He bought the business in 1878 for $500 plus $800 for the office furniture and renamed it after himself. He transformed the company, building it into a business with billings of $3m and five offices, before selling it in 1916.

The London office was set up in 1899, operating initially as an extension of the US office. It eventually became a fully-fledged agency in 1925. Even in its earliest days, JWT introduced an emphasis on market research to clients such as Lever Bros -- the first step towards a structured planning process, which was formally introduced by JWT in 1968.

In 1936, JWT became the first agency in London to have its own recording studios, soon becoming the largest producer of commercial radio entertainment in the country. During World War II these studios were taken over by the BBC, which also gradually requisitioned much of JWT's office space. JWT, in the meantime, was responsible for many of the 'home front' campaigns, such as the famous Food Facts advertisements.

In 1944, JWT moved to 40 Berkeley Square -- a location originally built as a block of luxury flats. Showbusiness legends including Frank Sinatra, Toscanini and Merle Oberon are among the many famous people who have lived there.

When commercial TV began in London in 1955, JWT was ready, having set up a department to prepare for TV advertising two years previously. JWT was the first agency to have its own TV casting department, which it set up in 1956 and the first to persuade top film and TV feature directors to make commercials for their clients. JWT was represented on the opening night of commercial TV by spots for Kraft Cheese Slices and Lux Toilet Soap (two accounts still handled by the agency today) -- Kraft had come second in the draw for the first commercial to be shown on TV.

Moving forward to more recent times, JWT joined the WPP Group in 1987. The media department of JWT merged with that of Ogilvy & Mather in September 1997 to create MindShare, now a leading player in the UK media market and also part of the WPP Group. 2001-2 has also been an eventful period -- RMG Connect and Black Cat were added to the JWT group of companies, Simon Bolton succeeded Stephen Carter as chief executive, and the agency moved to its new offices in Knightsbridge Green.

Recent developments

As well as broadening the total communications offering through RMG Connect and Black Cat, JWT continues to go from strength to strength in its above-the-line advertising. Recent campaigns include 'If Smirnoff Made...',which is dramatically turning around the business of the Smirnoff Red brand, as well as generating much comment from the industry and consumers alike in terms of creative execution. The Smirnoff Ice sub-brand has also been a success. Launched with an irreverent, youthful, edgy advertising campaign, it has enjoyed strong results in the UK market.

The continually evolving, award-winning Kit Kat work is a testament to the JWT approach and how a truly "big" creative idea can allow a brand to remain true to itself, while simultaneously keeping up with the times. The "Have a break" campaign has been running since 1957, and yet the ongoing developments in thinking and execution ensure that it remains one of the most entertaining and well-loved campaigns.


JWT has a strong marketing and new business department, developing new and existing relationships through a wide range of marketing activity such as PR, online, direct mail, and marketing materials -- from corporate brochures, through think-pieces such as JWT InSight, to items showcasing the agency's creative work. Graduate recruitment is also an important part of the agency's promotion, ensuring the continued high quality of JWT staff. Internal communication to existing staff ensures that they are all involved in the agency as a whole, proud of its achievements, and advocates of the JWT brand. This involvement in agency life extends beyond work through an active social scene within the agency.

The agency also has a large and highly valued alumni network - people who have either worked for, or with, JWT over the years, who know the way the agency works and who look on their experience with JWT in a positive light. JWT also believes in the value of Thought Leadership, appreciating the need to be not just involved, but to provide leading opinion and momentum at the highest levels, working alongside clients as members of the various bodies that drive the industry -- bodies such as ISBA, CBI, IPA and AA.

Brand Values

JWT is a quintessential enduring brand in the advertising industry, with values encompassing integrity, professionalism, complete focus on end results and total commitment to its clients' business. The agency has an approach which could be encapsulated as "never stand still": in other words, an ability to structure a particular brand team to respond to individual client needs and a drive to keep reinventing itself while still remaining true to the core tenets on which the agency is built -- the quality of its people, thinking and creative work.

Creativity sits at the heart of the agency -- there is a firm belief that good creative ideas can come from anywhere. This has only been strengthened by the move to Knightsbridge Green with its purpose-built, open style structure promoting even greater levels of teamwork, flexibility, energy and integration through its purpose-built, open-style structure.

Things you didn't know

  • Research has consistently indicated that "Have a break. Have a Kit Kat" is the nation's favourite tagline.

  • JWT brought the first TV ad into the new millennium -- the agency had booked the spot ten years in advance.

  • JWT produced the UK's first interactive ad, for Kellogg's Frosties. Among a diverse staff, JWT have an ex-England Ladies' footballer on reception and a British Thai Boxing champion working in the creative department.

  • Numerous famous people have worked at JWT at some point in their lives. These include Martin Amis, Julie Christie, Ken Done, Adrian Lyne, Faye Weldon, Alan Parker and Bob Payton.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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