While Wieden + Kennedy has spent recent weeks launching work for clients that supports the Black Lives Matter movement—including for some frequently vocal brands like Nike and some surprising newcomers like McDonald’s—the independent agency hadn’t released an official statement of its own until today.
In a video of animated text created for Instagram, the agency bluntly states that it will not work alongside clients, employees or partners who don’t support Black Lives Matter.
“Black Lives Matter. This is not a controversial statement,” the video says. “If you do not support this sentiment as an employee, you should find somewhere else to work. If you do not support this sentiment as one of our parters, we do not want to be affiliated. If you do not support this sentiment as a client, we’ll gladly support you finding another agency.”
Over its nearly 40-year history, Wieden + Kennedy has often been one of the agency world’s more opinionated players and has reveled in its role as a global independent. But in recent years, the agency has also been on one of its biggest growth spurts ever, winning A-list clients like McDonald’s, Ford, Facebook and HBO.
Some of its clients have been more proactive than others in responding to Black Lives Matter since nationwide protests began in late May after Minneapolis police killed unarmed resident George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. Nike and HBO were quick to respond, with the athletic brand and W+K Portland creating a spot about racism and the premium network posting a message of support on Twitter:
Even McDonald’s, traditionally a brand that avoids political or polarizing issues, launched a June 3 ad from W+K New York in support of Black Lives Matter, though some of the chain’s critics said the ad was “hollow” given McDonald’s track record on income-inequality issues such as raising the minimum wage.
On June 5, Yum Brands—parent company of W+K Portland client KFC—posted a letter from CEO David Gibbs announcing it would donate $3 million toward social justice initiatives. Gibbs ended his note by saying “Black Lives Matter.”
Wieden + Kennedy’s most polarizing client throughout the debate around police violence against Black Americans has been Facebook, which counts W+K among its roster of core agencies. Besieged by critics both outside his company and within, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg became a political lightning rod when—unlike Twitter—his platform declined to amend or flag posts by President Donald Trump, such as his comment that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
However, even Zuckerberg eventually expressed support for Black Lives Matter in a June 5 note to employees. “To members of our Black community: I stand with you,” Zuckerberg said. “Your lives matter. Black lives matter.”
Sources at Wieden + Kennedy said it’s unlikely the statement posted today will result in the agency resigning any current accounts, given that most of its notable clients have come out in support of Black Lives Matter. But they do believe it will serve as a warning sign of sorts for any potential clients who’ve kept the movement at arm’s length to avoid backlash from conservative consumers.
In terms of timing and why the agency is posting its statement more than two weeks into the national protests against police violence, the agency sources said they spent that time discussing and addressing the issues of inequality through internal conversations rather than prioritizing a public statement.