Are legacy agency brands important?

First, JWT decided it was a great idea to bring back its longtime name, J Walter Thompson, to coincide with its 150th anniversary in December. When he let the news slip a few months ago, Sir Martin Sorrell said it would be a "slick and good move". Then, last week, we learnt that DigitasLBi has revived the Lost Boys brand (the LB part of the agency’s name) and Publicis is co-opting the Drugstore name of its ultra-chic Parisienne luxury convenience shop and applying it to an innovation venture in London’s Tech City.

The ad industry is experiencing change faster than ever – relentless change that doesn’t give you a chance to take a breather before you are faced with the next transformation. You can understand that a feeling of stability and familiarity would be welcome to many. It’s also not unreasonable to suppose that agency brand names that have some established meaning and positive association could be helpful in a start-up-packed town.

But it’s doubtful that it matters to anyone other than those deep in the industry. Do even clients, who do the hiring and firing of agencies, care about "legacy"?


Kerry Glazer, chief executive, AAR 

"It’s a talking point for the industry and emotive for those who work, or used to work, for the agency that’s reverting to a legacy name. But, to clients, it really is neither here nor there. Most clients aren’t particularly concerned about what their agency is called as long as they deliver what they promise. In the main, clients are knowledgeable about the agencies they work with and may know a few others well, but the changing of a name of an agency they neither work with nor know is inconsequential to them. Agency brands aren’t the same as consumer brands."

Agency head

Gustavo Martinez, global president, JWT

"Today, more than ever, our unique history and pioneering roots are a key differentiator of our brand. It was apparent that, among our employees, clients and the world at large, there is a yearning and admiration for brand authenticity; brands with a rich history. Our return to the J Walter Thompson name is inspired by this realisation of how our employees and our society connect to brands. The revival of the name and the focus on our spirit define and guide how we plan on spending the next 150 years. I feel a great sense of responsibility to maintain and nurture the pioneering spirit of the company."

Agency head

Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"Legacy agency brands are vital to our industry. If we didn’t have them, we’d risk not only losing our stature in the wider business community but diluting our rich heritage and culture. They inform the perceptions people within and outside of the industry have of us. A legacy agency brand isn’t just the sum of its output, it embodies the people who know and love that brand and the compelling stories that have been and continue to be shared about it. Our rebrand to Havas [from Euro RSCG] marked a meaningful return to our roots and a celebration of our heritage."


Andrew Melsom, senior partner, Agency Insight

"A local Chinese restaurant closed down due to a mouse problem, and reopened under a different name. But it’s still known as the place with the verminous chow mein. The marketplace will need to be reassured that with a new name comes sweeter seaweed. There may be good reasons to rebrand, such as the turbocharging of DDB with the Adam & Eve name. Reverting to J Walter Thompson may work well as an internal fillip, and is rather charming, but it makes no outward game-changing statement. Marketers love brands, but to make a new name meaningful requires a new spirit and some wonderfully unexpected work."


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