Yes, W+K produces the industry’s most iconic work. Yes, McDonald’s appointing WKNY as lead creative agency is a major accolade. And, yes, it’s a blow to the future of creativity.

The prevailing point of view is McDonald’s USA’s selection of WKNY as its lead creative agency is an affirmation of creativity and a referendum on its dedicated agency team and DDB’s 50-plus-year relationship with the golden arches. McDonald’s USA’s comments reinforce this, indicating that WKNY was selected for its ideas and that We Are Unlimited was retained for its operations. Unfortunately, it is not a triumph for creativity. It is another example of quarantining brand creative from execution and bifurcating agencies into creators or executors.

McDonald’s joins Ford as the second global marketer to split off brand creative from digital, CRM, CX, and data-driven marketing. Ford also hired W+K for brand creative and left its broader digital marketing and media with BBDO and Global Team Blue. Both are reminiscent of agency rosters from earlier in the decade, when separate agencies, using separate insights and responsible for separate executions, were told to work together. Ten years ago, agencies would vie for assignments and projects in isolation. In today’s industry context, however, quarantining creativity is a hindrance.

Separating Creative From Execution Risks Growth

When brand creativity is separated from digital execution, the work can’t work together. It inhibits synchronizing loyalty, performance, brand, digital, and physical experiences into a total brand experience. Our research shows that the absence of creativity has led to digital sameness and stagnant customer experience. Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) — our barometer of CX performance — is flat for the fourth consecutive year. For every 1 point of growth in the CX Index, firms grow 2% in returns. Quarantining creativity costs firms growth.

A Barrier To Change

CMOs’ demands for growth and transformation cannot be realized when creativity is on its own island. The notion that brand creative can only be found at select agencies stands in stark opposition to helping marketers meet their objectives. It’s also false. Look no further then the diverse group of agencies winning at Cannes. They include media, PR, production, holding company, consultancy, and independent agencies. Furthermore, the industry’s fixation on agencies that specialize in television as the “most creative” is a shackle. It drags the industry back in time. It distracts agencies from pushing, innovating, and advancing the capabilities CMOs need. It prevents change. Nick Law says it best: “If change doesn’t happen soon in our industry, we’re f—–. It’s as simple as that.”

The Future Lies In Scaling Creativity With Technology And Data

Agencies must be both creators and executors. The most effective campaigns connect the meaning of the content, the significance of culture, and the context of media. The best agencies will advance their offerings and processes to bring together creative, digital, technology, and media.

The future of the agency business relies on its willingness to innovate and invent the creative capabilities CMOs need. Our latest Forrester report, “The Agency Data Platforms That Will Power Creativity At Scale,” starts this conversation. Common insights, faster strategic decisions, and new capabilities are key ingredients for success. If you have questions or want more information, email me at