Wieden and Kennedy’s HQ is laid-back in a dynamic sort of way. By
A powerful BMW, driven by an equally well-built Dutchman, speeds its way
from Schiphol airport to the centre of Amsterdam as if wasted seconds
could cost lives.
But car and driver are simply transporting a Campaign reporter on her
way to Wieden and Kennedy’s European headquarters. And, when I get
there, I am left reading for half an hour.
This odd mixture of mad dynamism and easy-going calm characterises the
workings of the agency as a whole. On a tour round the creative
department, almost all the desks are empty, even though the creative
proposals for Coca-Cola’s World Cup ’97 campaign must be presented to
the client within the week.
It turns out that some of the creatives are at home, recuperating from a
transatlantic flight before coming into the office. Another cluster are
poring over work in the basement, while yet more are discussing their
labours over lunch.
Jon Matthews is the creative director responsible for the agency’s
output across the Continent, from Portugal to Eastern Europe. He is also
in charge of putting together the right combinations of writers and art
directors to work on all the projects that come in from the agency’s
clients including Nike, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.
Matthews describes the environment: ’It is like being shipwrecked. You
end up eating each other or ploughing the fields together to provide
So far, the land has proved pretty fertile. There was last year’s ’good
versus evil’ spot for Nike, which featured a team of the world’s top
footballers taking on (and beating) the forces of evil in a
And, for Euro 96, Wieden and Kennedy Amsterdam took Coca-Cola into the
heart of football, with Matthews’ inspired line: ’Eat football. Sleep
football. Drink Coca-Cola.’
On their own, the snappy line and the shots of football fans weren’t
enough to convince the Coke bosses that they had a strong campaign in
the making. Matthews knew that the right music would make the difference
and found it in Amsterdam’s largest record store - a track by the band,
The campaign has been adapted across Europe and South America, with
variations appropriate to different languages and cultures, Predictably,
bikini-clad female fans were included for the South American cuts.
While Wieden and Kennedy creatives may miss out on the glory of pointing
out every last bit of their work to friends and family in their home
countries, Matthews points out: ’I would rather impress my mother with a
phone call from Barcelona where I’m working on a job she’ll never see,
than be boasting that I created the tedious soap-powder spot she sees
Matthews and his colleagues travel across Europe on ’cultural immersion’
trips. Major European sporting events attract a posse from Wieden and
Kennedy, and shoots and client meetings demand an exhausting
So how do you get to be the creative director of Wieden and Kennedy
As a rather unconventional first step, Matthews became a computer
salesman in rural Wales during the miners’ strike. It left him with a
thick skin and a sales patter that reached for the impossible. Next, he
moved to Unilever, where he became involved with the company’s
advertising and its agency, J. Walter Thompson.
He must have been a nightmare client because he almost always thought he
could do better than the agency. At last he got the chance to prove he
was right when he got a job as a copywriter at JWT and, soon afterwards,
moved to Collett Dickenson Pearce.
Matthews later joined BMP DDB Needham, and from there worked on the
Volkswagen business in New York. He lost his job when the US agency
concerned lost the account, but was soon working as a freelance for
Wieden and Kennedy Amsterdam. Less than two years later, he is the
agency’s sole creative director. A joint creative director is being
recruited to replace his previous partner who, rather romantically, ran
off with an Italian client.
Matthews is at the heart of the agency’s ’hub and spoke’ system, where
satellite offices form the ’spokes’ around Europe, the ’hub’ of which is
Matthews proves pan-European advertising doesn’t have to be bland
nonsense that appeals only to the lowest common denominator. He shows
that it is possible to come up with ads that achieve the opposite, that
appeal to Matthews’ ideal audience, the ’highest common multiple’.