8 Older Advertising & Marketing Businesses Still in Operation

8 Older Advertising & Marketing Businesses Still in Operation

In this digital age, advertising and marketing agencies and business are practically popping up on every street corner. Competition is fierce and talented digital marketers, copywriters and content strategists are in demand. There remain a number of very successful older advertising & marketing businesses still in operation. Many of these remain among the forerunners in the modern age. These are companies that have literally stood the test of time whilst other traditionalists faltered.

1864 – JWT (J. Walter Thompson)

Originally established as the Carlton & Smith Agency in 1864, J. Walter Thompson was formed when its top salesman, James Thompson, purchased it from his boss, William Carlton, in 1877 for a princely $500. In 1896 the company incorporated. It became the first American agency to expand internationally when opening a London branch in 1899. Further expansion into Asia, Egypt and South Africa followed.

J. Walter Thompson went public in 1969 and was hired by Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in the mid-1970’s, to “refurbish the image of the regime”. In 1987 the company was acquired by media giant WPP, reverting to its JWT moniker again in 2005. Long serving clients of JWT included Unilever, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Ford Motors. JWT merged with Wunderman in 2018 to form Wunderman Thompson, a digital agency.

1895 – Hakuhodo

Hakuhodo is a Japanese advertising and PR company formed in 1895 by Hironao Seki. Based in Tokyo, it started as an advertising space broker and magazine distributor. In 1910, Hakuhodo began selling front page newspaper adverts, increasing its visibility and appeal. Between 1937 and 1953 the agency absorbed numerous others, while also creating a radio advertising department and a TV group.

In 1996 Hakuhodo co-founded the DAC Consortium which invested in digital innovation. In 2003 the agency merged with other companies to form Hakuhodo DY Holdings to launch a media and entertainment company. A partnership with US global PR firm, Ketchum, was announced in 2009. The company has a large intercontinental footprint with offices in Asia, the Americas and Europe.

1912 – McCann

In 1912, Harrison McCann, along with four partners, launched H. K. McCann Co. in New York. Over the next six years he opened Canadian branches in Toronto and Montreal. In 1920, McCann‘s “Truth Well Told” service company emblem became the first to receive intellectual property protection through the U.S. Copyright Office. Seven years later H.K. McCann Co. went intercontinental, opening offices in Berlin, London and Paris. In 1930, McCann merged his company with that of Alfred Erickson to become McCann-Erickson, with new offices opening in Rio and Buenos Aires in 1935.

Twenty years later Coca-Cola assigned its US ad account to McCann-Erickson, in a partnership that lasted until 1992. Coca-Cola returned to the fold in 2000 with a “groundbreaking contract, making McCann a marketing partner”. In about 2013, the company quietly dropped the “Erickson” part of their name in a rebranding campaign. At the same time, McCann established United/McCann to administer the international Microsoft account.

1917 – Grey

Grey Global Group is a New York City-formed advertising and marketing agency established in 1917 as Grey Studios, named after the colour of its office walls. Founders Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur C. Fatt changed its name to Grey Advertising in 1925. with Grey signing with its first major client, Procter & Gamble in 1956. In 1961 the firm opened a Los Angeles office, and further branches in London and Japan over the following two years.

Grey went public in 1965 and was named as one of the top 10 US agencies a year later. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s Grey acquired major accounts including Kraft General Foods, Jenner and SmithKline. Grey Advertising became Grey Global Group in 2000 and, 5 years later, was acquired by the WPP Group at a price upwards of $1.3 billion.

1923 – Young & Rubicam (Y&R)

Young & Rubicam was formed in Philadelphia in 1923 by John Orr Young and Raymond Rubicam. In 1926 they moved the company to New York in order to fulfill contract conditions with Jell-O. During the 1960’s Y&R produced the first ever colour TV commercials and proceeded to buy up another nine companies before the end of the 1980’s. In 2000, Young & Rubicam was acquired by the British marketing holdings company, the WPP Group.

In 2018 Y&R merged with VML to become VMLY&R, with over 7000 employees and 75 offices worldwide. Some major accounts held by VMLY&R include Burger King, The Whole Story Project, Xerox, Marks & Spencer, Johnson & Johnson and Lays Potato Chips.

1926 – Publicis

Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet was 20 years old when he founded Publicis, a small Paris-based advertising agency, in 1926. Since those meagre beginnings the agency has grown to be recognised as one of the “Big Four” agency companies, along with Interpublic, Omnicom and WPP. Its growth really started after World War II, forging  allegiances with French government officials and playing a major role in promoting France’s post-war economic boom. Publicis led the expansion of the country’s advertising industry.

By the end of 2010, Publicis had operations in over 200 cities in over 100 countries. It had also formed a strong strategic alliance with another major player, Tokyo-based international advertising and public relations company, Dentsu. In 2019, Publicis acquired the data marketing firm Epsilon for $4.4 billion.

1928 – BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn)

BBDO resulted as a merger between the George Batton Company (1891) and Barton, Durtine & Osborn (1919), or BDO in 1928. The new agency had upwards of 600 employees with offices in Chicago, Boston and Buffalo. In 1940, director Alex Osborn introduced “brainstorming” to the agency as a technique to generate ideas. BBDO pitched for, and won, the accounts of Chrysler’s Dodge Truck and Car Division and Pepsi in 1960.

In 1997 the agency created the Tnuvu Milk advert – the first advert to be filmed in space. By doing so, BBDO earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Other noteworthy clients throughout BBDO’s history include VISA, Burger King and Snickers.

1942 – FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding)

FCB is one of the largest advertising agencies worldwide. The business was actually established as Lord & Thomas in Chicago in 1873, but only when being sold to three of its existing managers, Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone and Don Belding in 1942, did it adopt the name Foote, Cone & Belding. FCB went public in 1963 and picked up major clients including Mazda, AT&T, the Coors Brewing Company and Mattel during the 70’s and 80’s.

Foote, Cone & Belding began an international expansion during the 1980’s and had close to 200 offices servicing over 100 countries by the turn of the millennium. In 2006 the company merged with Draft Direct Worldwide to form Draftcb and was again renamed to FCB in 2014.


It is apparent that being an established and conventional company does not mean that it will lose its appeal. Although many have changed names, ownership or dissolved completely, the above shows that being able to adapt and diversify in business is key to success. Older advertising & marketing businesses still in operation are generally experiencing a fair deal of success due to their experience gathered over previous decades.

Warren Potter

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