• Inducted in 2003
  • Advertising

David Kennedy

He must’ve wanted the hell out of Chicago is all I can figure. Because he was standing there in my office doorway wearing a three-piece pin-striped suit. It was the was the first time I ever laid eyes on David Kennedy and the last time I ever saw him in that suit. After he got the job, he must’ve burned the suit or given it to Goodwill, because for the rest of his working life, with only two or three minor exceptions, this man wore blue jeans and a blue work shirt. Period. “It simplifies things,” he said.

Simplifying the man is a bit more difficult. It would be easier to organize that rat’s nest of papers, photos, flags, buffalo skulls, woodblock letters and other artifacts he calls an office. But there are so many facets to Kennedy, arranged in no particular order, that you cannot get a complete picture of him even after 25 years’ exposure. He is completely centered, yet a mass of contradictions. For instance, he and I will be walking back from lunch trying desperately to find a way out of a particular business crisis, and I will be doing my damnedest to articulate the issue, break it down before it broke us down. He listens, challenges, takes another line of attack and then abruptly yells, “Jesus, Wieden, look!”

There, under a tree growing out of the sidewalk is a scrap of paper with an image I can’t quite make out. He bends, picks it up, brushes off the grime, flattens it out. “Isn’t that beautiful?” He gives his classic half-laugh, looks at me with a raised eyebrow. David Kennedy is addicted to beauty. It is this obsession with craftsmanship—coupled with his startling conceptual talent—that has guided Wieden + Kennedy from the backwoods of Oregon out onto the international stage.

Given his complex nature, I told him, “David, where do I start? The number of agencies you’ve been thrown out of would fill the entire space. Ditto your awards. Talk about the work? It talks for itself.” You read his raw notes. You get a rare glimpse of the man behind the legend. A man of incredible warmth, passion, a man deeply connected to other people. Think of it as Kennedy: The Basement Tapes:

“So, Wieden…if you could write a brief opening that spoke to our beginning and some kind of ending that speaks to our college fund involvement, that would be great. Some suggestions… How we met at McCann selling plywood for G.P. How we left to sell plywood for L.P. How we left to sell sneakers for Phil Knight. (Dog chases car, dog catches car, dog is running 60 miles an hour with hot muffler in mouth.)

The environment we wanted to create…a place where people could realize their potential, slime-mold theory, rules (The Work Comes First).

How, in the beginning, we didn’t know/care anything about business or money—just wanted to make great ads.

Maybe how I introduced you to my heroes—illustrators, photographers, directors, cameramen, etc., and how Nike allowed us (what did they know—we picked the teams) to work with all these great collaborators…Cuesta, Marco, PytkaAnnie Leibovitz, Bridges, Piestrup, Elfman, Spike Lee, Manarchy…on and on and on. How advertising is the process of collaboration—art directors, copywriters, directors, photographers, musicians, editors, typographers, retouchers, engravers, printers…blah, blah, blah.

How I would duck out of boring client meetings, financial meetings, research/planning meetings, new business meetings (meetings, meetings, meetings!!!) to get back to the waiting board (the mistress), the pressure of the ever-present deadline, the adrenaline, the rush of it all—trying to perfect an ad at the last moment in Dennis’ office with Phil Dana…lurking to tear it out of my hands to rush to the engraver’s camera.

How I hated computers, cut and pasted by hand standing at the Ingento (cutting board) in the mount room—still do today. How I ended up being the worst art director in the shop, because I had to spend my time looking at work instead of making work, how it drove me crazy and how I left to make sculpture, but never left.

My retirement party. The Harley. The piper parade down Washington Street (the piper was actually wearing a Kennedy kilt). The fact that you and I were basically family guys—four Wiedens and five Kennedys and Bonnie and Kathleen and Ken Wieden, and how that was part of the fabric of the agency—the kids (staff) couldn’t pull things over on us, but we knew to give them the room to fall down.

How one day the Indians appeared at our door, as if for years they had been patiently waiting (as is their way) for the right moment to come get me. Waiting for the day that we had knowledge enough, allies enough and understanding enough to come join them. And how they changed my life.

His Indian name is Wichasha Owayakepi Chunta, which is Lakota for He Who Sees the World With His Heart. I was there at the naming ceremony when Rick Williams first spoke the name. He Who Sees the World With His Heart. I was overcome. How do they know these things? I haven’t the faintest.

He has contributed so much to this industry, so much to our agency. But of all the things he has given me, and they are many, the most enduring are those three simple words: “Jesus, Wieden, look.”

David Kennedy was born in Kansas and grew up in Oklahoma. 

Dan Wieden

Please note: Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2003.