Ad Agency Names Have Undergone a Transformation

Man Bored at Work

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It's surprising to think that in an industry that makes its bread and butter with creativity and originality, advertising agencies are home to some of the most boring company names on the planet.

It's fair to say that only law firms rival this completely uninspired approach to naming. It's been said that self-promotion is one of the hardest things for any agency to do and do well, and that is clearly evidenced by the bland and banal name choices being made.

The formula, at least for the last 60 to 70 years, appears to be: founder surname 1 + founder surname 2 = agency name. This is modified to become a laundry list of partners as they join the company, or are promoted. 

The Biggest Players Have The Most Boring Names

Take a look at the top 25 advertising agencies around the world in 2016, listed by revenue. These are the big-name ad agencies with blue-chip clients. 

  1. WPP Group, London
  2. Omnicom Group, NY City
  3. Publicis Groupe S.A., Paris
  4. Interpublic Group of Cos., NY City
  5. Dentsu, Tokyo
  6. Accenture's Accenture Interactive, New York
  7. PwC's PwC Digital Services, New York
  8. IBM Corp.'s IBM iX, Armonk, New York
  9. Deloitte's Deloitte Digital, New York
  10. Havas, France
  11. Hakuhodo DY Holdings Tokyo
  12. Alliance Data Systems Corp.'s Epsilon, Texas
  13. BlueFocus Communication Group, Beijing
  14. MDC Partners, New York
  15. DJE Holdings, Chicago
  16. Acxiom Corp., Arkansas
  17. Cheil Worldwide, South Korea
  18. Experian's Experian Marketing Services, New York
  19. Advantage Solutions' Advantage Marketing Partners, California
  20. MC Group, Berlin
  21. Engine Group, London
  22. Asatru-DK, Tokyo
  23. Freeman, Texas
  24. Acosta's Mosaic, Texas
  25. Aimia, Canada

And here is a list of other agencies that make big money, year after year:

  • Havas Suresnes, France
  • Aegis Group, London
  • Sapient Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • aQuantive, Seattle
  • Aspen Marketing Services, West Chicago, Illinois
  • Cheil Communications, Seoul
  • Monster Worldwide, NY City
  • WB Doner & Company Southfield, Michigan
  • Cossette Communication Group, Quebec City
  • Richards Group, Dallas
  • Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London
  • M&C Saatchi, London
  • Chime Communications PLC, London
  • Merkle Lanham, Maryland
  • Weiden+Kennedy Portland, Oregon
  • RPA, Santa Monica
  • Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago
  • TBWA Worldwide, New York
  • J. Walter Thompson, New York
  • Wunderman, New York
  • Y&R, New York
  • Weber Chandwick, New York
  • Edelman, Chicago

Still awake? Congratulations. To anyone other than shareholders in these firms, the names are about as memorable and exciting as a cold bowl of porridge. 

With one exception (Engine Group), It's just a laundry list of boring acronyms, dull suffixes and blatant attempts to raise the egos of the founders. An agency as creative as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, for instance, may not get very far today with such an average and forgettable moniker. In fact, for an agency that used to have "words are a barrier to communication" as its screensaver, it sure did put a lot of them in the company name. Wouldn't something more creative, and short, have been better? Something that illustrated the creative nature of the agency, which is very creative. 

But it seems to have been the case, in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, for agencies to go with the standard "names above the door" approach. Even the best agencies ever to grace the industry, including Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ogilvy & Mather, and TBWA, all suffered from "I want to be famous!" syndrome.

This is a classic example of ego trumping the greater good. In any situation where names make up the title of an agency or business, it's inevitable that someone will leave and someone else will join, or get promoted. It's why you end up with ridiculous agency names like AMVBBDO. Seriously, that's just a meaningless jumble of letters to most people. If you have a more conceptual name, none of that matters. And modern agencies know this all too well. 

That Was Then. This is Now. (Thankfully.)

More and more agencies are starting to come around to a more creative way of thinking. Solid, memorable and creative agency names that currently populate the industry include:

  • 72 And Sunny
  • Strawberry Frog
  • Taxi
  • Wexley School for Girls
  • Big Spaceship
  • The Bank
  • Pocket Hercules
  • Kids Love Jetlag
  • Omelet
  • David & Goliath
  • Walrus
  • Mother
  • Moosylvania
  • Creature
  • Blammo Worldwide
  • The Glue Society
  • Farm
  • Bonehook
  • Catapult
  • Huge
  • Mosaic
  • Organic
  • Zenith
  • Cactus
  • Critical Mass

The difference between the two lists is night and day. While one, the former, looks more at home at a boring fundraiser for lawyers, the other is an exciting collection of agencies that conjure a story beyond the name. 

Take Blammo Worldwide as a prime example. They clearly have a sense of humor, an easy-going approach, but also relate that they'll have an impact. Imagine if they had instead gone with the surnames of the four major players in the agency – McNab, Gee, Simon, and Emslie.

Would that even have garnered a second look?

Perhaps in their day, clients wanted a sense of structure and a solid foundation from their ad agencies, and so "name soup" was a good choice to attract clientele. It's worth noting that one of the most creative agencies that have ever existed, Doyle Dane Bernbach, was "name soup." 

These days, it seems that the new kids on the block are looking at things a little differently. Sure, they're not in the top 25, and probably never will be considering the considerable size, history, and billings of their much higher paid competitors. But with agencies like Mother and Taxi making big waves, they should not be surprised to see themselves nipping at the heels of the big boys.

So, in the interests of keeping this industry fresh and "proving it rather than saying it," here's a challenge to 24 of those 25 top agencies – rename yourself. It doesn't have to take a long time, or even mean anything.