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Subsidiary of WPP plc
Founded March 2001 (2001-03) in San Francisco, USA and London, England
Area served
Key people
Ajaz Ahmed, CEO and Founder
Tom Bedecarré, Chairman
Rei Inamoto, CCO / VP
Lester Feintuck, CFO
Services CRM
Technology services
Media, search and analytics
(Digital) Business Transformation and Consulting
Interface design
Product development
Digital content creation and distribution
Social media marketing
Revenue US$ 250 million (2012)[1]
Number of employees
Website akqa.com

AKQA is an advertising agency that specializes in creating digital services and products. AKQA has offices in Europe (Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris), North America (Atlanta, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.), South America (São Paulo) and Asia (Gurgaon, Shanghai, Tokyo), and employs 1,600 staff.[3]


The most recent insights into the philosophy of the agency are contained in Velocity: The Seven New Laws For A World Gone Digital, published in May 2012.[4] It was co-authored by AKQA founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed, and Nike VP Digital Sport, Stefan Olander. During an interview with Adweek, Ahmed described the themes of Velocity: "Our belief is that audiences want to have more engagement and more of an experience, rather than be bombarded with endless messages."[5] Soon after launch, Velocity became the best-selling management philosophy book in the UK, US and Germany.[6]

Creating products and services for brands that serve rather than interrupt is an idea Ahmed also develops in an article written for the Guardian newspaper: "Interface is the brand." Here he proposes that marketers start "storytelling through software," and concludes: "If the Mad Men era is dead, then long live the new era of ‘The Long Tale’, where the enduring quality of your story matters more than the relentlessness of your promotional spend."[7] This idea is further expanded in another Guardian piece: "Radically simple design always wins" where Ahmed asserts that brands need to be user-centric in their approach to developing products and services.[8]

The book The On-Demand Brand quotes AKQA’s Chairman, Tom Bedecarré: "There are a lot of advertising people who want to hang onto the past, want to hang onto 30-second television commercials and full-color magazine ads. [But] you [now need to] have software engineers and technology people as part of the creative team if you want to connect with what people are doing."[9]


AKQA was founded in 1994 in London by Ajaz Ahmed and James Hilton.[10] In 2001, the company became AKQA Holdings Inc. after an investment of $70 million by Francisco Partners and Accenture, with San Francisco as its new headquarters and four offices in the UK, US and Asia. In the same year, Nike Run London, a new branded sports format with 10,000 runners taking part was launched by AKQA for Nike. A year later, in 2002, Run London sold over 20,000 places in a few hours using an e-commerce platform designed by AKQA.

In 2003, AKQA created ideashappen.com in collaboration with Visa USA and MSN. The platform asked people to submit entrepreneurial and community-based ideas.[11] During its first month, the campaign attracted one million visitors. The agency also launched Nike Presto online with a collective of post-graffiti artists, where users could interact with art, sound and hidden animation.[12]

In 2004, the New York office opened to increase access to East Coast clients and talent.[13] AKQA also published AKQA Ideas: Volume 1, showcasing the agency’s work within 100 pages.[14] The book sold out on Amazon, with proceeds for the sale donated to the NSPCC and Prince’s Trust charities.

In 2005, AKQA Interface Design Practice helped Microsoft create the new user experience for the Xbox 360 gaming console.[15]

AKQA Mobile was launched as a specialist division in 2006.[16] In the same year, AKQA created the annual student competition Future Lions in collaboration with the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. This yearly competition has since challenged students to "connect an audience to a product or service from a global brand in a way that wasn't possible five years ago."[17]

On its website, Francisco Partners reported selling AKQA to General Atlantic in 2006 (although some news reports listed this as 2007), terms not disclosed but the transaction was brokered by Morgan Stanley.[18] In 2007, AKQA opened new offices in Amsterdam and Shanghai. The agency also acquired SearchRev and turned it into a dedicated search engine marketing practice.[19] Revenue grew by 45%. Fiat eco:Drive launched at the Paris Motor Show: an in-car app that helps drivers reduce their CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

AKQA was named on the AdAge Digital A-List in 2008. Work highlighted included the Coca-Cola "Happiness Factory" digital experience, the Halo "Believe" launch campaign, McDonald’s alternative reality game "The Lost Ring" and products such as the Nike Route Finder.[20] Later that year, AKQA’s Christmas card – starring a chorus of harmonic microwaves – was a notable viral success and featured on more than 400 blogs.[21] The following year, AKQA was named in the AdAge Book of Tens as one of the outstanding agencies of the decade, and won the Cannes Lions Cyber Grand Prix for Fiat eco:Drive in June 2009.[22] Other notable work included the alternate reality game for Warner Bros 221b, the spoof film Alpine Legend for Xbox, and the campaign "Born to Run" for Save the Children.

In 2010, AKQA created key branded iPhone apps launching that year: Gap Style Mixer, Nike True City, Nigella Quick Collection, and VW Real Racing GTI. The agency also opened a third European office in Berlin. A year later in 2011, Nike Training Club, one of the world's most downloaded training apps, wins awards worldwide. Heineken Star Player, the innovative dual screening game, launched and swept the board of global awards. AKQA was cited "most awarded digital agency" by the Gunn Report,[23] and received international recognition on both sides of the Atlantic when named Agency of the Year by Campaign and Adweek.

In January 2012, AKQA opened a fourth European office in Paris, with Nike as founding client. Velocity was published, co-authored by AKQA founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed, and Nike VP Digital Sport Stefan Olander, with a foreword by Sir Richard Branson. In June, AKQA joined WPP plc as an independent subsidiary within the world’s largest communications group.[24] At the time it was reported that General Atlantic owned 80% and management 20%, although other published reports say General Atlantic "and other shareholders" owned 80%.[25] Later that year, AKQA opened two new US offices in Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon, followed by an eleventh office in Tokyo, Japan.[26]

In 2014, AKQA further expanded with the openings of offices in São Paulo,[27] Brazil and Gurgaon, India, bringing its total global presence to 13 offices across three continents.[28]

Notable work[edit]

Nike Rise[edit]

Nike Rise House of Mamba is the world’s first full-sized reactive LED basketball court.[29] The court was built in Shanghai to provide a state-of-the-art training facility for Nike Rise – the first social basketball reality show in Greater China, drafting aspiring basketball players to be coached by NBA players Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.[30] Equipped with motion-tracking sensors the LED floor simulated Kobe Bryant’s signature basketball moves using instructional graphics to train players.

Nike House of Mamba won multiple Gold awards at the London International Awards,[31] and Spikes Asia.[32]

Nissan IDx[edit]

The Nissan IDx experience showcased at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.[33] Visitors at the event were able to configure their own Nissan IDx concept car using the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset.[34]

The work was awarded Digital Installations winner of Design Week 2014,[35] and first place at the IAB Creative Showcase 2014.[36]

WWF Together[edit]

WWF Together is an app created for the World Wildlife Fund that features in-depth stories of endangered animals and interactive elements that incorporate unique iPad features, including an interactive globe showing the distance from the user to different animals around the world, origami style design of each animal and visual galleries by environmental photographer Morten Koldby.[37]

Heineken Star Player[edit]

Heineken Star Player is a live, dual-screen football game that lets fans watch UEFA Champions League (UCL) matches on television while playing in real time on a computer, iPhone or iPod Touch. To score points, players must anticipate events unfolding live on the pitch, and decide how the action will play out during the next few seconds. Players compete and share scores with their friends via Facebook, and with other players around the world in the "Interactive Champions League".[38] Heineken Star Player launched on April 27, 2012.[39]

Nike+ Training Club[edit]

Nike+ Training Club (N+TC) launched in January 2011. The app has over 60 workouts that can be set to the user's own music. Each includes video demos and audio instructions, countdowns and motivational commentary. With N+TC, the user earns exclusive rewards (such as unlocking star athlete and celebrity workouts) whenever they complete a workout. N+TC was rated number one app in the iTunes Healthcare and Fitness category, and has won both European and global awards. At the end of 2011, the Wall Street Journal rated N+TC as one of the best apps of that year.[40]

MTV Under The Thumb[edit]

Under The Thumb is an app for the mobile generation, redefining how MTV is seen and shared by the digital teenagers of Europe. When out and about, the best MTV shows – both past and present – can be streamed onto mobile devices on demand. When at home, the app becomes a remote control to be paired with a PC, laptop or connected TV for an immersive dual-screen experience. The app syncs viewing with friends who can watch shows and chat together in real time, no matter where they are. MTV Under The Thumb launched on February 28, 2012 in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and the Netherlands.[41]

Fiat eco:Drive[edit]

Owners of the Fiat 500 (or other new Fiat models), can use eco:Drive to collect their real-world driving data on a USB stick plugged into the dashboard. When drivers connect the USB to their computer, eco:Drive analyses drivers gear changes, acceleration and braking habits and calculates their eco:Index – a scoring of their carbon footprint. eco:Drive offers advice on how to improve driving, quantifies how good this will be for the environment, and how much money can be saved during a year, by increasing drivers' fuel efficiency.[42]

Volkswagen 2010 GTI car launch[edit]

Based on an engine by Melbourne developer Firemint, AKQA created the free "Real Racing GTI" games app, released on October 22, 2009.[43] It became the number one app in 36 countries, with over 6.4 million downloads.[18] Using the GPS function, players could find their nearest Volkswagen, and within days of the release, dealers were reporting sales directly linked to the game.[44]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2014, AKQA won Queen's Award for Enterprise: Innovation,[45] and was named Most Innovative Agency at 2014 Digiday Awards.[46] 2013 was the agency's most successful year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to date. It won 14 Lions including a gold Cyber Lion for Nike+ Kinect Training and a Titanium and Integrated Lion for Nike "Find your greatness".[47]

In 2011, AKQA was named Digital Agency of the Year by Adweek[48] and Campaign[49] magazines. Combining the results of all the significant advertising industry awards, the Gunn Report rated AKQA the top digitally-led agency of 2011. New Media Age also named AKQA the "most respected agency" as voted by industry peers.

AKQA garnered more than 100 industry awards, including at least one agency of the year award every year. In 2010, AKQA took home Agency of the Year for the second year running at the Revolution Awards,[50] and Agency of the Year awards from New Media Age and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. In 2009, the agency won five separate Agency of the Year awards, a feat unprecedented in the communications industry.

AKQA has previously been named Revolution’s Agency of the Decade (1997 to 2007).[51] In 2006 Creativity magazine gave AKQA its inaugural Interactive Agency of the Year award, recognizing the agency's "global culture, creative hires and technological muscle." Creativity editor Teressa Iezzi said: "We thought AKQA embodied the spirit of the big-idea-first approach."[52]


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External links[edit]