J. Walter Thompson was incorporated by James Walter Thompson in 1896 as an advertising agency; the firm is currently considered a marketing communications company. It has been owned by WPP plc since 1987 and on November 26, 2018, it was announced that it will merge with digital agency Wunderman to form ‘Wunderman Thompson’.
Headquartered in New York City, J. Walter Thompson is a global network with more than 200 offices in over 90 countries and employing over 12,000 marketing professionals.1
JWT celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014 and it traces its origins to the Carlton & Smith agency, which opened its doors in 1864, one of the first known advertising agencies in the United States.2 Founder William James Carlton started selling advertising space in religious magazines; almost nothing is known about the partner named Smith.
In 1877, Thompson, hired as a bookkeeper in 1868, purchased the business of his employer for $500 and, a year later, purchased the office furniture for $800. He changed the company designation to J. Walter Thompson, as he felt that James Thompson was too common a name in New York. One of his first clients was a personal friend – Robert Wood Johnson, one of the three brothers who founded Johnson & Johnson – for whom Thomson personally wrote advertising for the toothpaste brand Zonweis.3
Amusing anecdote, in 1962, JWT created “The Bologna Song” and the “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner” song for Oscar Mayer.4
J. Walter Thompson was among the first agencies to employ writers and artists to create interesting advertisements for their clients, replacing the standard ads created by in-house departments. It was also the first agency to provide a wide range of advertising services to clients, including copy, layout, package design, trademark development and rudimentary, market research.5