David Kennedy, co-founder of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, dies at 82

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
Oct. 12, 2021 9:49 p.m.

The independent agency helped change the ethos of advertising

David Kennedy, half of the team that launched the famed advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, died on Sunday at age 82.

Kennedy teamed up with Dan Wieden to launch the independent ad agency in Portland on April Fools’ Day, 1982.


W+K became an advertising powerhouse, known for its iconic Nike campaigns, including the “Just Do It” commercials. The agency’s bold culture endured after Kennedy’s retirement in 1995. In a COVID-19 PSA created for Oregon’s “Stay home, save lives” campaign last year, bold black letters on a yellow screen read simply: DON’T ACCIDENTALLY KILL SOMEONE.

The independence of the agency Kennedy helped create changed the ethos of advertising, said David Ewald, a professor in the advertising department at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.


“Independence allows them to push the boundaries. To create really brave advertising for their clients,” Ewald said. “You can see that in the work they did for the state of Oregon with ‘Don’t accidentally kill someone.’ Or the Kaepernick ad for Nike.”

Ewald said agencies that answer to investors may need to play it safe — generally not a hallmark of W+K work.

Kennedy was born in Kansas in 1939 into a family of wildcat drillers. He grew up close to oil fields, became an apprentice welder as a young teenager, and went on to study art.

At W+K, he cut an unassuming figure and he frequently returned after retirement. He was known for his black hoodie and his humble demeanor.

“You would never know that he was one of the two founders of the company,” said Ewald, who worked at W+K briefly.

In retirement, Kennedy pursued his own art. But he continued working on W+K’s long-running account for the American Indian College Fund, a source of pride for him. He also served on that group’s board of directors.

W+K soft-launched a new campaign for the fund Monday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day and also the day after Kennedy’s death.

The ad agency also temporarily rebranded itself online as “Kennedy+Wieden” in honor of its late founder.