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Old School Is Cool: Impiric Goes Back to Wunderman Name

Reversing a much-hyped decision made 15 months ago, direct marketing agency Impiric today reverted to calling itself Wunderman, a truncated version of its original Wunderman Cato Johnson name.

The name change harks back to the agency’s founding more than four decades ago by Lester Wunderman, widely regarded as the “father of direct marketing.” The switch reverses a decision made by then-chairman/CEO Jay Bingle, who was succeeded in January by Daniel Morel.

Consequent to this decision, the 80-year-old Wunderman has agreed to return to the agency’s New York headquarters as an adviser. Despite being the agency’s chairman emeritus, Wunderman said he “wasn’t consulted” last year when the agency moniker was switched to Impiric. Reverting to Wunderman works fine for him.

“I never felt slighted [then] nor vindicated [now],” Wunderman said. “Given a choice I much prefer this name. But I think the agency could choose any name that it could do business with.”

In changing the name to Impiric, the agency last year succumbed to a fad.

“The company changed the name [to Impiric] in a particular point in time when there was a lot of activity in the marketplace of similar nature from other companies and other entities,” said David Sable, president/CEO of Wunderman’s New York office. “We just sort of followed suit but never lost the connection back to Wunderman.

“As Daniel Morel came in, we had new management and we looked at the future and said, ‘You know what — let’s just drive a stake in the ground and not be too complicated. It should just be one name,' ” Sable said.

Corporate name changes of this nature are corrective measures in a market come to its senses, said Laura Ries, president of focusing and strategy consultancy Ries & Ries, Roswell, GA.

“It’s indicative of the time with the crash of anything dot-com,” Ries said. “More and more companies are trying to get away from that trend as far as possible. I think companies that changed their name to get on the bandwagon of the dot-com boom have not seen any benefit.”

Employee and client dissatisfaction with the Impiric name played a key role in nudging senior decision-makers at the agency to stick with the known-quantity brand.

“I think if you asked nine out of 10 people — clients and people internally — and said, ‘If I could give you name X or Wunderman, what would you take?’ I think it’s a no-brainer,” Sable said.

Wunderman in 1958 co-founded the agency under the Wunderman, Ricotta and Kline label. Advertising agency Young & Rubicam, New York, bought the shop in 1973. Nine years later, Wunderman merged with sales promotion firm Cato Johnson.

In October, British marketing conglomerate WPP Group bought Y&R. The buy strengthened WPP’s presence in direct marketing through Impiric, an agency that last year posted worldwide gross income of $415 million from clients such as Citibank, AT&T Corp., IBM Corp., Xerox, Unilever and Ford Motor Co.

In a concurrent move, the company logo will change from Impiric’s bracket to a vertical arrow pointing to Wunderman “to denote impact,” Sable said.

The agency’s focus on customer relationship management stays. Nor will its broader offerings change: digital and online marketing, telemarketing and tele-webmarketing, database and analytics, insights and strategic planning, creative, events and promotion, and production.

“As we look at the future, we said, ‘What’s our business?’ ” Sable said. “The focus is on the customer. The focus is on delivering messages to the customer and understanding who that customer is. Guess where that equity lies? That equity lives in the Wunderman name.”

Yet, it was only in spring 2000 that the Impiric name was introduced with much fanfare, a time when all things Internet and dot-com were hot. DM News then was told that the name change was reflective of the agency’s desire to redefine its marketing service focus and overall image. Specifically, the new name was aimed presenting the agency as “the first of a new breed of professional services firms,” Bingle said at the time.

Linguistically rooted in Latin, the name also reflected the new marketing mix it brought to clients, including “insight, imagination and impact [as part of] the equation — three critical elements represented by the three i’s in Impiric,” Bingle was quoted as saying.

However, senior executives in the direct marketing agency business did not buy that line at the time.

“They took a legend’s name off the door,” Howard Draft, chairman/CEO of DraftWorldwide, told DM News.

But while the agency was busy drumming up support for Impiric, it did take some insurance. Not many people notice a line in small type on all agency communications.

“We never dropped the Wunderman name,” Sable said. “If you look at all the material over the past year, it all said, ‘The art and science of communications from WCJ.’ “

There is another change in the offing: Wunderman’s title as chairman emeritus, now that he plans to take a more active role at the agency as adviser on creative or strategic direct marketing issues.

“Whether that title is maintained is to be decided,” Wunderman said. “I could be a consultant or adviser to reflect just more activities than chairman emeritus, so we might change it. The other title I’d like to adopt is founder.”

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