What’s in a Name in the Advertising Game?

Digital Amplification
May 2, 2024
A group of business leaders sitting at a table during a meeting
Digital Amplification
May 2, 2024
 If you had to name one person who is synonymous with the modern advertising profession, the person that comes to most professionals’ minds is David Ogilvy. He was the original ‘suit’, the guy most responsible for establishing the modern advertising industry from the 1950s onwards. The iconic image of the dapper man with a pipe reviewing creative concepts became the model for all the fictional advertising characters you are familiar with, from Darrin Stevens in “Bewitched” to Don Draper in “Mad Men.” And even if you don’t know his entire name or personal story, you are almost certainly familiar with the agency he created, which had his name on it: Ogilvy & Mather.

A History of Ad Agency Names

In the early days of advertising, it was common practice for the founders of agencies to stick their names on their shingle. This tradition emerged in the 19th century when the industry was dominated by a few individuals with exceptional business acumen and creative vision. In the 20th century, a generation of iconic advertising men – yes, they were all men – such as Leo Burnett and Ted Bates founded similarly eponymous agencies. By putting their own names on the company, they were promising to provide personal service to their clients  – similar to lawyers or architects – in that they could be trusted to provide insight and expertise.

The Rise of Brand Identity: Moving Beyond Initials

In the 1960s, as many companies merged and industries conglomerated, the advertising world followed suit. This resulted in so many founders’ names on the stationery that sometimes they literally couldn’t fit. And so, for example, a firm led by four guys named Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn – which a comedian once joked sounded like a box falling down the stairs – had to rebrand itself as BBDO. Similarly, a firm once known as Lever International Advertising Services had to simplify and became LINTAS. By the 1990’s there was so much consolidation that one firm ended up in a situation where their receptionists were answering the phone, “Good morning, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, how can I direct your call?”! 

As the advertising landscape matured, agencies began to take their own medicine, and started using their company name to better establish their own brand identity. They understood that a strong name could not only differentiate them from competitors but also communicate their values and capabilities. A simple partner-based name could be given a punchy graphic twist, such as “Wieden+Kennedy” (famed for their punchy Nike tagline, “Just Do It”). This shift led to the emergence of more evocative names like “Droga5” (known for their bold, disruptive campaigns).

The Modern Landscape: Embracing Creativity and Innovation

Today, the world of agency names is a truly eclectic mix. Some agencies retain a classic, professional feel with names like McKinney or the more expansive and inclusive Goodby Silverstein & Partners. But others adopt a more playful or even seemingly crazed approach, with names like The Barbarian Group, Mother, Gravity, 72andSunny or Mad Dogs and Englishmen. 

And consolidation continues. Most recently, two well-known agency stalwarts disappeared when J. Walter Thompson (“JWT”) and then Young & Rubicam (“Y&R”) were consumed by VML. Try making a Scrabble word out of all those letters!

Meanwhile, a few simply named agencies have seen their brands endure, ranging from the bland Grey to the more exotic Havas and Carat.

Beyond the Name: What Truly Matters

While a catchy name can grab attention, it’s crucial to remember that an agency’s true worth lies in its work. A strong name can be a great starting point, but what truly matters is the agency’s creativity, strategic thinking, and dedication to client success, and that is what will ultimately define its reputation.

So, the next time you come across an interesting agency name, take a moment to ponder the story behind it. It might just offer a unique perspective into the agency’s approach and the world of advertising as a whole. In other words, given how an agency has approached the strategic importance of building their own self-identity, how do you think they will take up the critical task of helping you build your brand?


Keep reading to learn more!

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An AI writer assisted in drafting this blog. It was curated, fact-checked and optimized by Digital Amplification’s team of marketing experts and professional copywriters. It’s written for marketers and business leaders looking for ways to improve the performance of their marketing investment.

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