The 10 Oldest Digital Marketing Companies in the World

The 10 Oldest Digital Marketing Companies in the World

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates

Change is the only inevitability of which we can be sure.

Everything else is up to the gods, the roll of the die, or whatever other fate-controlling deity you subscribe to. 

Just ask any of the world’s first digital marketing companies that are still around today. Within a century and a half, marketing evolution has happened so rapidly that traditional methods are barely remembered and are being used even less. Pioneering agencies that were lauded for print, radio, and television advertising have had to get with the times to stay on top.

In this article, that’s exactly what we’ll explore with you: brace your brain as we unveil the oldest digital marketing companies in the world and find out how they remain abreast of change to maintain lasting creative legacies.

Digital Marketing Companies Break Away from Tradition

With the rise of the internet in the ‘90s, change was no longer knocking at the door; it was kicking it in. 

Digital media allowed businesses and advertising industry leaders to target specific users, track the effectiveness of their ads in real-time, and employ a variety of qualitative metrics. Because of this, tradition could no longer outshine the new. 

From the earlier forms of digital advertising, such as banner ads and pop-ups, to paid search (SEO and SEM) and social media advertising, digital marketing companies have had their hands full with both the endless possibilities and simply keeping up! The advent of mobile phones and the right mix of digital marketing expertise means businesses can now advertise to consumers on-the-go based on where they’re located and their general online behaviors.

Digital Marketing Companies – The First to Ever Do It

The marketing evolution from traditional to digital has altered what we believed was possible and created opportunities for audience engagement that still sometimes seem unbelievable.

If you’re a Luddite and repeller of the new, working for digital marketing companies is probably not the best idea. It’s imperative, especially as marketing progresses at such a rapid rate, that businesses stay ahead of the game to remain in it. 

Without further ado, here is our curated list of 10 digital marketing companies that rode their own coattails to achieve lasting success, immortalized by legacies as indelible as the cultural influence they’ve had throughout the world.

1. JWT (J. Walter Thompson)

JWT Digital Marketer

Quick facts about JWT:

  • Founded: 1864
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 10,000+
  • Well-known clients: Bayer, Cadbury, Diageo, DTC, Ford, HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft, Microsoft, Nestlé, Nokia, Rolex, Royal Caribbean, Schick, Shell, Unilever, Vodafone, and many more

JWT trumps the list of the oldest digital marketing companies at number one for good reason: besides being active for nearly two centuries, they are pioneers of market research and advertising as we know it. Although founded in 1864 as Carlton & Smith, it was eponymously renamed to James Walter Thompson after the man who took over the reins in 1878 and simultaneously became among the first industry leaders. Known for establishing a dedicated research department in 1915, JWT is acknowledged for introducing an academic and scientific approach to understanding consumer behavior.

As the inevitability of a digital marketing evolution became ever more apparent, JWT evolved once more with the changing times, embracing digital advertising spaces, such as radio and TV. After decades of organizational changes and restructuring, JWT merged with Wunderman in 2018 and became Wunderman Thompson. Following this, they became part of the newly formed VML – the world’s largest creative company. 

Most Legendary Campaign:

Sorting through nearly two centuries worth of campaigns for all of the world’s top brands and selecting one has a hint of Eau de Impossible to it. From Nike to Rolex, De Beers to Burger King, it would appear that every large brand under the Tuscan sun has bumped shoulders (and strategies) with JWT.

If we had to pick just ONE, then, purely for its vintage elegance and timeless nostalgia, we’d go with their 1944 Ford campaign, which greatly helped the company achieve their present longevity through a time when auto-building materials were in short supply. JWT created the immortal slogan for the car brand that read, “There’s a Ford in your future.”

2. Hakuhodo

Hakuhodo Marketer

Quick facts about Hakuhodo:

  • Founded: 1895
  • Headquarters: Tokyo
  • Number of employees: 4,000+
  • Well-known clients: Robinson Department Store, Toyota Motor Corporation, Sotetsu Holdings Inc., Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., Greenpeace, and many more

One of the oldest digital marketing companies in the world, and certainly in its country of origin, Japan, this lauded global conglomerate was founded by Hironao Seki. It began as an advertising space broker and wholesale distributor for educational magazines. The company got its first big break in 1910 by winning a contract to place front-page newspaper ads.

As a rarely-found pioneering agency from the East, Hakuhodo DY Holdings is now an integrated marketing and innovation company with thousands of employees all over the world. They are a staple in the world’s top 10 agency companies per Ad Age. As with most marketing industry leaders, Hakuhodo is a two-time winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. They are also the only Asian-based agency awarded a ‘Special Lion’ commemorating Cannes Lions’ 50th anniversary in 2003.

Most Legendary Campaign:

With such a prestigious digital marketing history, we are again faced with decisions tougher than tungsten. Gun to our heads, we’d have to vote for Hakuhodo’s 2007 Toyota “Humanity” campaign in which the soulless automobiles were given life by humans commandeering every aspect of the vehicle, from the airbags to the headlights. 

For this, they won the 2007 Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

3. McCann

McCann Marketer

Quick facts about McCann:

  • Founded: 1912
  • Headquarters: United States (offices in 120 countries)
  • Number of employees: 15,000+
  • Well-known clients: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Kraft Heinz, MasterCard, L’Oréal, IKEA, GM, and many more

H.K. McCann Co. was established by Harrison McCann and four partners in 1912, in New York; a breeding ground for world-class companies throughout digital marketing history. In the following years, the company would open Canadian branches and receive a landmark intellectual property patent from the U.S. Copyright Office for its “Truth Well Told” service company emblem. Seven years later, H.K. McCann went intercontinental and in 1930, McCann merged his company with that of Alfred Erickson to become McCann-Erickson.

True star power was granted twenty years later when Coca-Cola gave their U.S. ad account to McCann-Erickson – a partnership between these digital marketing companies that would last until 1992. Returning to McCann with a groundbreaking contract in 2000, Coca-Cola made McCann their marketing partner. After covertly dropping the “Erickson” part of their name in a 2013 rebranding campaign, McCann established United/McCann to roll out the international Microsoft account.

Most Legendary Campaign:

With a bajillion to choose from and many of the world’s biggest household names, we’re faced with another tough choice. Selecting any of their numerous exceptional ads for Coca-Cola feels too much like a cheat code, so we’re opting for their 1997 MasterCard campaign – back when McCann was still merged with Erickson.

It shows a father and son attending a baseball game during which the father pays for everything (tickets, hot dogs, drinks) with his MasterCard. The real emphasis was on the enduring bond between father and son; that’s what made the experience “priceless”.

Almost two decades later many of us (millennials, anyway) can remember the tagline created by these industry leaders: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” That’s a heart-string tugger, no doubt.

4. Grey

Grey Marketer

Quick facts about Grey:

  • Founded: 1917
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 2,400
  • Well-known clients: Pringles, Pantene, SoundCloud, Volvo, United Nations, Pfizer, Carlsberg, and many more

A staple among top digital marketing companies, Grey Global Group was established as an advertising and marketing agency in 1917, in New York. They called themselves Grey Studios after the color of their office walls. In 1925, preempting the marketing evolution, founders Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur C. Fatt gave it the new moniker of Grey Advertising. They signed their first major client – Proctor & Gamble – in 1956,. In 1961, the firm started its global expansion as pioneering agencies often do.

After going public in 1965, Grey was named one of the top 10 US agencies and industry leaders just a year later. Maintaining their stride throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Grey acquired massive accounts, such as Kraft General Foods, Jenner, and SmithKline. In 2000, Grey Advertising became Grey Global Group and was acquired just five years later by the WPP group for more than $1.3 billion.

Most Legendary Campaign:

Grey Global Group has worked with many of the world’s most recognizable brands, lending their digital marketing agency expertise to a colorful variety of companies. They are, however, masters at social outreach – creating meaningful ads about topics that matter the most.

Beautiful, powerful campaigns have been created by Grey Global Group like the one for MiBanco’s Emancipation Loan that negates married women requiring their husband’s signature to perform any fiscal transactions. Similarly, they created a stark advert for IPDC Bangladesh called “Banking on a Better Future”, covering child marriage prevention loans.

5. Young & Rubicam (Y&R)

YR Marketer

Quick facts about Y&R:

  • Founded: 1923
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 13,000+
  • Well-known clients: Burger King, The Whole Story Project, Xerox, Marks & Spencer, Johnson & Johnson, Lays Potato Chips, and many more

Finding its beginning in Philadelphia, Young & Rubicam was started by John Orr Young and Raymond Rubicam. To meet the requirements of a contract they had with Jell-O, the company was moved to… you guessed it – New York – in 1926. Here’s a crazy fact that makes Y&R stand out among the regal selection of original digital marketing companies: they were the producers of the first-ever color TV commercials.

They proceeded to buy up another nine companies before the 1980s drew to a close. In 2000, Young & Rubicam was acquired by a British marketing holdings company, the WPP group. A merger in 2018 with VML saw them rebrand to VMLY&R: two pioneering agencies reigning over 7,000 employees and 75 offices worldwide.

Most Legendary Campaign:

Of all their incredible work, the ingenuity of Y&R’s Xerox “Brother Dominic” campaign stands out like a murderer in a monastery. An ingenious spin-off, the campaign places the original protagonist (Brother Dominic from the 1977 Xerox Super Bowl campaign) in the digital age. Highlighting the disparity between communication requirements from 1977 to 2017, the original Brother Dominic only had to make 500 copies of a manuscript using Xerox’s technology.

As for the modern-day Brother Dominic? Well, not only does he have to make 500 copies, but he also must have them translated into 35 different languages to be shared on all seven continents. The tagline truly underscores the sheer capabilities of Xerox’s new technology by simply stating: “Set the Page Free”.

6. Publicis Groupe

Publicis Groupe Marketer

Quick facts about Publicis Groupe:

  • Founded: 1926
  • Headquarters: Paris
  • Number of employees: 98,000+
  • Well-known clients: AXA, Carrefour, Cartier, Citi, Diesel, Heineken, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Orange, Procter & Gamble, Renault, Sanofi, UBS, Walmart, and many more 

Coming in at 6th on the list of oldest digital marketing companies, the Publicis Group is a titan of marketing today. It is recognized as one of the “Big Four” pioneering agency companies, along with WPP, Interpublic, and Omnicom. This is especially impressive when you take its humble beginnings as a small Paris-based agency created in 1926 into account. Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet was just 20 years old when he founded Publicis and decisively led the company to major growth post-WWII.

By 2010, Publicis could proudly claim operations in over 200 cities and 100 countries. They also formed a strong strategic alliance with another of the industry leaders, Tokyo-based international advertising, and public relations company, Dentsu. Publicis then acquired the data marketing firm, Epsilon, for $4.4 billion in 2019.

Most Legendary Campaign:

With such extensive digital marketing expertise and the volume of high-quality work that accompanies it, we decided to choose an ad that is clever, humorous, and unconventional. Subway ANZ launched a “Feel Good” Spring campaign that was aimed at a diverse consumer base with a shared passion for fresh food and healthy eating.

Publicis steered the idea true north by building a giant 9-meter-long sub and setting it to sail on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand. A creative new take on the brand’s renowned slogan, “Eat Fresh”.

7. BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn)

Quick facts about BBDO:

  • Founded: 1928
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 15,000+
  • Well-known clients: Chrysler, Pepsi, Visa, Burger King, Snickers, Emirates Airline, Bombay Sapphire, Bacardi, Mercedes-Benz, and many more

The result of a merger between the George Batton Company (1891) and Barton, Durtine & Osborn (1919), BBDO, or BDO, was born in 1928. The combined agencies had 600 employees with offices in Chicago, Boston, and Buffalo. They were one of the first digital marketing companies to include “brainstorming” as an idea-generating technique, introduced to the company by their 1940’s director, Alex Osborn. They pitched for and won a series of blue-whale accounts in 1960, including Chrysler’s Dodge Truck and Car Division, and Pepsi.

A pioneering agency by all rights, they also lay claim to creating the first-ever advert filmed in space. They did this for their client, Tnuvu Milk, and, in doing so, locked a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as well as on our less official list of Marketing GOATs.

Most Legendary Campaign:

We’d have to be barking at the moon if we didn’t double down on the world’s first space-based advert not being heralded as BBDO’s most legendary campaign. The “Milk in Space” commercial follows the story of a renowned cosmonaut who has a yearning for the taste of fresh milk while floating in orbit, hundreds of miles away from home.

The ad, which had a budget of $450,000, shows cosmonaut Tsibliev drinking the milk on July 25th, a month after a collision between Mir and a supply ship, proving its longevity and freshness are fit for heroes.

8. Leo Burnett

Leo Burnett Marketer

Quick facts about Leo Burnett:

  • Founded: 1935
  • Headquarters: Chicago
  • Number of employees: 9,000+
  • Well-known clients: Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nintendo, McDonald’s, Fiat, Samsung, and many more

Leo Burnett is another of the hosts of digital marketing companies that began as an advertising agency. While advertising remains a core feature of its offerings, the fact is that agencies that haven’t gone digital in our day and age usually don’t survive – luckily, Leo Burnett exercised foresight. Now a global tour de force in digital marketing, they focus on advertising, marketing, and offline/online branding.

Most Legendary Campaign:

With shrewd digital marketing agency expertise and a growing team of top creative minds, Leo Burnett was able to do what only the greatest creatives can do: cause a cultural shift. Their 2014 campaign for Always, a provider of menstrual hygiene products, shone a sharp light on gender bias so deeply entrenched in the everyday language we use.

To boost the confidence of women around the world, they took the often-disparaging turn-of-phrase, “Like a Girl”, and created a viral video of young girls giving the expression an empowering meaning by doing amazing things, just like girls do.

9. FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding)

FCB Foote Cone Belding Marketer

Quick facts about FCB:

  • Founded: 1942
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 8,500+
  • Well-known clients: Levi’s, Dow, HP, The Boeing Co., KFC, Taco Bell, NIVEA, and many more

As one of the oldest and largest companies in digital marketing history, FCB was initially established as Lord & Thomas in Chicago, in 1873. It got its current namesake after being sold to three of its existing managers, Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding, in 1942. After going public in 1963, it picked up major clients, including Mazda, AT&T, the Coors Brewing Company, and Mattel, during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Foote, Cone & Belding began its global expansion in the 1980s and had to shutter around 200 offices servicing over 100 countries near the second millennium. A 2006 merger with Draft Direct Worldwide led to the formation of Draftcb, which was then renamed FCB in 2014.

Most Legendary Campaign:

FCB is another example of how digital marketing agency expertise can become the Midas Touch, producing outstanding campaigns at a prolific rate. BUT – if we had to choose just one, then their “A Song for Every CMO” campaign stands out clearly with its clever blurring of the lines between direct marketing and raw entertainment. They targeted major SaaS brands’ CMOs directly and personally, emulating the fashion in which they wanted them to reach their target audience – on Spotify.

They put the scintillating potential of Spotify advertising on full display and created original songs that were then dedicated to a leader of Spotify’s top target advertisers, like Kimberly-Clark, Indeed, CVS, Frito-Lay, and more. The campaign had a meteoric effect on media and social conversation in the marketing community, leading to Spotify’s most successful advertising year ever.

10. Ogilvy

Ogilvy Marketer

Quick facts about Ogilvy:

  • Founded: 1948
  • Headquarters: New York
  • Number of employees: 15,000+
  • Well-known clients: American Express, Rolls-Royce, Sears, Ford, Shell, Barbie, Pond’s, Dove, Maxwell House, IBM, Kodak, and many more.

Known as “The Father of Advertising”, David Ogilvy founded the agency that would go on to become Ogilvy & Mather in 1948. With a meagre entrance into the advertising realm, David built his business from the ground up: from zero clients and two staff members into one of the eight largest advertising networks in the world today. Now, Ogilvy lays claim to over 450 offices in 169 cities.

The company’s culture and strategy still embody its founder’s thoughts, talents, and work ethic, with David successfully steering Ogilvy & Mather to become a jewel among thousands of contemporary digital marketing companies. David had a remarkably keen sense of what worked when attempting to appeal to consumers and was prone to pioneering unconventional methods.

This is, after all, the man who said, “Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, rebels, and dissenters.”

Most Legendary Campaign:

Because of all that David Ogilvy has done for digital marketing companies the world over – and as one of the major catalysts for the marketing evolution – we are going to honor him by discussing Ogilvy’s most legendary campaign from David’s perspective. In 1957, Ogilvy penned what would become Rolls-Royce’s longest-running and most successful ad at the time. Ogilvy himself proclaimed, “It’s the best headline I ever wrote,” and we think arguing would be unwise!

As for the headline? Well, accompanied by a black-and-white photo of the car that was and still is the very definition of luxury, Ogilvy wrote: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” This factual, authoritative, and slick copy led to an unprecedented 50% increase in sales for the opulent car brand the following year, in 1958.

Does Age Matter with Digital Marketing Companies?

It could seem biased given that we are one, but modern digital marketing companies are more likely to be tapped into the continually shifting cultural zeitgeist of our times. 
Legacy speaks volumes, as do impressive campaign portfolios; however, freshly minted industry leaders are becoming more prominent among today’s most esteemed digital marketing companies.

We know that size matters but it’s about finding the right size. With Kadima, you’ve got a one-size-fits-all solution to your marketing woes and wishes. Subscribe to our newsletter today to remain ahead of a game that constantly begets new competition.


Written by Adam Eli Bernhardt


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