Update: Wunderman Becomes Impiric, ‘They took a legend’s name off the door’

Wunderman Cato Johnson, the 40-year-old sovereignty of direct marketing science founded by Lester Wunderman, changed its name this week to Impiric with the stated intention of redefining its marketing service focus and overall image.

The announcement came as little surprise after months of rumors spurred by press leaks that the company was considering a new identity to go along with its worldwide strategic restructuring, which began a year ago and was completed in September. At that time, chairman/CEO Jay Bingle said, “The strategic drive behind our restructuring initiative is to transform WCJ from a traditional direct marketing organization to a full-service customer relationship management company.”

Reiterating the importance of the move, Bingle said this week, “Technology has shifted the balance of power, and the customer is in control. Companies are recognizing this and searching for partners that can provide them with integrated CRM solutions.” The new name is intended to reflect the agency as “the first of a new breed of professional services firms,” as well as the new marketing mix it brings to clients, which now “includes insight, imagination and impact [as part of] the equation – three critical elements represented by the three i’s in Impiric.”

Packaged with the name change was the accompanying launch of the company’s new marketing lab unit. Wunderman will serve as worldwide director of the lab, and Paul Evans will be its worldwide executive vice president.

Although sources said Wunderman endorsed the new direction of the company, he refused to comment on the decision to drop his name. Leaders across the advertising arena had differing views, with most focusing on the efficacy of the change rather than the name itself.

DraftWorldwide chairman/CEO Howard Draft said he doesn’t completely buy Impiric’s new packaging. “They took a legend’s name off the door,” he said. But he hinted that management’s motivation has merit even though he sees risk in the prospect. “I understand their strategy. However, I feel like they are giving up a great deal of brand equity to get there.”

The importance of brand equity has long been a touchy subject – particularly its management and execution in direct marketing campaigns vs. the budgets, focus and celebration of it in advertising media. But when it comes to branding as theory, Jim Consolantis, chief integration officer at Ogilvy&Mather Advertising, New York, said simply, “It’s all about the brand, stupid. That’s what I always say. It’s the first rule.”

“You have to remember, products and service are created by companies, but they are owned and used by consumers,” said Consolantis, who has been with Ogilvy for 11 years managing creative for heavyweight brands like IBM. “Managing brand means everything. It’s about the way people pick up the phone and speak. It’s about what color the trucks are, how the uniforms look on employees. If you want to be best of breed, you have to [focus on] brand.”

Indeed, truly integrated advertising leaders now say image and execution can’t be separated, suggesting that Impiric is seeking to change with the times. There also is the clear indication that Impiric will remain true to its roots, as witnessed by the company’s strengthened alliances with firms like Digital Impact and EchoMall which will deliver proprietary communications and database technologies to clients. The size of Impiric’s work force, however, is still a question. The company now says it employs nearly 4,000 people – a number pegged at a little more than 3,000 in earlier press releases.

David Sipes, founder of Branders.com, San Mateo, CA, understands the thinking behind the name change.

“The company is incorporating new technologies,” he said, “but still maintaining its ability to be quantitative when it comes to combining traditional DM with more online mediums and the enhanced technologies – like e-mail marketing – that [go along] with it.”

Many Internet companies are using words that suggest being “empirical,” Sipes said. Using the letter “I” instead of “E” was perhaps allowing them to suggest a certain personality without being too associated with the more arrogant and increasingly overused word, he said. “I think the people there like the concept of being associated with interactivity,” he said.

Although the word Impiric is not in the dictionary, the company’s press material said it is linguistically rooted in Latin.

Impiric communications director Chris Cooney said it’s no mystery as to why things have changed.

“Wunderman in the late ’50s planted the seed of direct marketing, but the industry has grown up since then. The power of direct marketing has become measurable, and customer relationship management is the hottest buzz phrase today,” he said. “For us, going out in that dramatically changed marketplace, we find ourselves stereotyped as a print-oriented, nonstrategic direct marketing company at times, and we don’t want to spend time telling clients who we are at the table.”

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