David Kennedy, co-founder of independent advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, passed away Sunday at the age of 82.
The agency is preparing celebrations of his life and work and for the time being has changed its name to Kennedy+Wieden in his honor.
Kennedy was born May 31, 1939 in Kansas, into a third generation of wildcat drillers, and grew up in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Colorado, and other states along the Eastern front range of the Rockies. He spent his childhood fishing trout streams and rivers like The Little Bighorn, The Snake, and countless others.
At 13, his first job was as an apprentice welder, a craft that was to become a lifelong passion. He went on to attend the University of Colorado, where he received a Fine Arts Degree in printmaking and metal sculpture. He continued to create sculptures and prints in his home studio on his farm in Estacada, Oregon until his death.
He furthered his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Artists Guild, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, and the United States Marine Corps.
Kennedy and his wife Kathleen married in 1963 and went on to have five children while living in Chicago, where Kennedy began his advertising career as a designer/art director. There he served at well-known shops like Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Needham and Benton & Bowles.
In 1979, Kennedy moved his family back to the West, to join the Portland, Oregon office of McCann-Erickson. Three years later, in a move that was said to have had friends and family shaking their heads, he teamed up with a young writer — Dan Wieden — to form Wieden + Kennedy. Opening day was April 1, 1982,, and proving not to be a joke, over time the agency became one of the world’s most celebrated advertising agencies.
Under Kennedy and Wieden, the agency created some of the most iconic advertising campaigns in history for Honda, Nike and Travel Oregon among other clients.
Notable work under Kennedy and Wieden’s creative direction included an ad for Honda scooters famously featuring music and an appearance by Lou Reed. The documentary-style ad featuring city life used a shaky-camera technique that would soon be followed by many others in the industry.
Nike examples include Walk Stack, which was Nike’s first “Just Do It” commercial, Bo Knows and the series of ads featuring Spike Lee and Michael Jordan.
In 2011, the agency created The Kennedys in David’s honor, a creative incubator program to introduce and grow new talent, intentionally looking for creative talent outside of traditional advertising pipelines. It runs as W+K’s own agency within the agency, where talent work on real assignments with real clients and deadlines. It’s now a global program at W+K.
Over the years and even after his retirement in 1993, Kennedy led numerous annual campaigns and initiatives for one of the agency’s longest running accounts, the American Indian College Fund, including the very latest campaign which launched the day after his death.
He also served on the College Fund’s Board of Trustees and collaborated for many years with Native American artists and the Pendleton Woolen Mills Company to produce a line of limited-edition blankets for the College Fund, based on traditional indigenous designs and legends.
Kennedy was honored with many awards over the years and was inducted into the Halls of Fame of the Art Directors Club, One Club and the American Advertising Foundation. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
The Advertising Club Of New York, in partnership with Rick Boyko, former Chief Creative Officer Ogilvy North America and former Director of the VCU Brandcenter created a film that explores Kennedy’s career and accomplishments. It can be viewed here.
Long-time business partner Wieden once said, “David Kennedy’s heart and soul and neural pathways are etched deep inside Wieden+Kennedy. It’s who we are, it’s what we do and it’s why we do it.”
In addition to Kathleen, his wife of 58 years, Kennedy is survived by his children Cathlin, Brendan, Erinn and Siobhan, and predeceased by his son Ian.
The family has asked that gifts be made to the American Indian College Fund.