With WPP’s new VML merger, the future of the Taxi brand is still TBD

While WPP is merging creative agencies Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R to create the new entity VML, what that means for Canada—including the future of the Taxi agency brand—is still being worked out.

As a combined agency, VML will have more than 30,000 people across 64 markets when it officially launches on Jan. 1. Globally, it will be led by Jon Cook, VMLY&R chief executive, as global chief executive, and Mel Edwards, global chief executive of Wunderman Thompson, as global president. (Read our original news story from Campaign UK here.)

“Separately, Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R are two of WPP’s strongest and best-performing agencies,” said Mark Read in a release announcing the merger. However, Canada provides unique circumstances for the merger because of the dominant presence of the Taxi agency brand vis-à-vis VMLY&R in this market.

Y&R was folded into Taxi in 2015, and when WPP merged Y&R with VML globally in 2018, Taxi—one of Canada’s most successful ad agency brands ever—was retained, and any VMLY&R business or staff operated under Taxi.

There will be a VML Canada in January, but how it will operate and who will run it are both still to be determined, said Taxi’s longtime CEO, Rob Guenette.

“There is no mandate from Jon Cook, or anybody else, to change Taxi to VML,” he said.

“We don’t know yet what the executive is going to look like in Canada… It could be me. It might not be me,” he said. “It might be someone younger and smarter.”

“Once we are informed who is in what chair, we have to determine how do we best organize ourselves for the Canadian market and for growth,” he added.

In an email to The Message, VMLY&R’s global chief marketing officer Beth Wade said they will be “working through all local market leadership structures over the coming weeks.”

Vaishali Sarkar, previously CEO of Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R Indonesia, was named president of Wunderman Thompson Canada in May.

When WPP first merged VML with Y&R—followed by JWT merging with Wunderman a few months later—the objective was to create bigger agency networks by combining more modern, and increasingly important, marketing and communications specialties with traditional creative capabilities: VML was widely regarded as an innovator in digital, while Wunderman had deep roots in direct and data.

Similarly, the new merger is about scale, capabilities and responding to the changing needs of marketers and an evolving competitive landscape.

“The future of building strong brands and businesses requires the interconnectivity of brand experience, commerce, and customer experiences,” said Cook in the release. “We recognized the immediate opportunity to create what every consultancy and advertising agency aspires to build with the formation of VML.”

“Scale matters in today’s world as AI and technology transform marketing and global clients look to simplify their relationships,” said Read. “VML will combine world-class creativity with deep expertise in data, marketing technology and platforms to deliver competitive advantage for ambitious brands.” (See the new VML promo video below.)

Guenette called the merger a “giant step into the futue.”

“We can actually now get back at the table where Accenture or maybe some other big strategic players have pushed us away.”

Almost all agency leaders have been looking at how they must evolve in response to larger forces beyond their control—changing media, consumer habits and consequently brands themselves.

“You’re trying to figure out how to position yourself for the best and most effective path to growth,” said Guenette. At Taxi, that has meant evolving to a more diverse group of companies that includes VMLY&R, but also Type 1 to service VW, along with other customized client teams, and most recently the introduction of Taxi Commerce.

“We’ve been talking about this for the past five years. How are we going to structure ourselves for growth, as opposed to just emotionally defending the same position you had in the marketplace 10 years ago.”

The next step in that evolution might mean leading with VML and the possible end of the Taxi brand, he acknowledged.

“This is not easy, I love the brand… But bad decisions are based on emotion,” he said.  “As a decision maker, I really try to discipline myself to take emotion out of the equation.

“We will do the right thing and, by the way, the right thing might be to keep the Taxi brand, it might be investing in Taxi… But at this point in time, we don’t know enough to make that determination.”

David Brown