How advertising handles the chaos of social media

Pic: W+K Blog

Dan declares the pie contest winner! Pic: W+K Blog

Last week I experienced a strange collision of circumstances. I was up at the University of Oregon working with students who are specializing in advertising, media and journalism. At the same time I got the chance to visit my old agency, Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, and catch up with Dan for the first time in 7 years – it was even the annual pie contest day!

The coincidence of those two events gave me the chance to see how both ends of the industry timeline (from students at school to a thriving world class agency) were reacting to the impact of social media. What was interesting is that both were thinking their way through the seismic shift in different ways.

On the one hand, students were trying to get their head around the basics principles of advertising that were established around traditional advertising, long-standing media silos and mainstay companies that were now all in transition. They were then trying to project some vision of a career path that made sense in a constantly changing marketplace.

On the other hand, Wieden and Kennedy, like most top agencies around the country, were reconstituting their organisation and services to accommodate the rise of social media and the growing importance of mobile community, so as to best serve their clients.

With both worlds and their respective challenges in mind, I wanted to share a quote by Dan that I showed the students in Eugene. It was said a few years ago when I was still working there but it is so prescient today.

“Chaos does this amazing thing that order can’t: It engages you. It gets right in your face and with freakish breath issues a challenge. It asks stuff of you, order never will. And it shows you stuff, all the weird shit, that order tries to hide. Chaos is the only thing that honestly wants you to grow. The only friend who really helps you be creative. Demands that you be creative.” Dan Wieden

As anyone who has worked at W+K will tell you, Dan lives and leads by this creed. He makes the most of chaos recasting it as fertile ground for imagination and creativity, as permission to expand beyond known quantities and what’s expected, and as licence to take big risks that lead to massive wins and the odd mistake. In fact, the large sign on the wall in the agency (made out of push pins!) reads: Fail Harder’.


The current chaotic state of the industry presents both advertising professionals and marketing students with the same opportunity to define themselves, their careers and how they respond to constant change. Just as the best advertising agencies are rising to the challenge by reinventing themselves, students must learn to do the same. Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Catching up with Dan and Susan Hoffman at the pie context. Yum.

Catching up with Dan and Susan Hoffman at the pie contest. Yum!

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