Madison Avenue, one of New York’s iconic, long streets that run from north to south of Manhattan island, has for decades been used as a term synonymous with US advertising due to the number of iconic ad agencies that set up shop there. It was home to the meteoric rise of our industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s - the Mad Men era.
But times change. This week saw the remaining big agency on Madison Avenue, TBWA\Chiat\Day, pack its bags for pastures new. Amy Ferguson, chief creative officer at the agency, tells us that some of her creatives proactively came up with suggestions of creative ways to recognise the moment. There were concepts for both funny and serious documentaries as well as more high tech celebrations of Madison Avenue like an AR tour. Others were keen for a big old bash at the agency.
“I wasn’t convinced that was the right thing to do,” says Amy, “but I kept thinking about it because I was certain we had to do something. So Rob Schwartz, [chair at TBWA New York Group], and I came up with the idea for the last ad over one of our breakfasts. He wrote a first draft that day and then we took turns rewriting and revising until the thing was perfect.”
The ad appeared in The New York Times and is reminiscent of Madison Avenue’s golden era with its full page copy style. It offers thanks to ‘for being our crazy industry’s stomping ground for all these years’ and singles out a number of iconic campaigns borne out of Madison Avenue agencies, work that Amy and the team felt stood the test of time and is “truly iconic”.
But they were also keen to not look at the industry’s past with rose-tinted glasses. “We wanted to mark the moment and honour the amazing history of Madison Avenue,” says Amy. “But - and this was very important to me - we didn’t want to sugar coat things either. Madison Avenue was home to iconic agencies who made famous work but it was also home to some less iconic moments. It couldn’t just be a pure celebration, I knew the piece needed to make some acknowledgements and to have a point of view.”
One way that the industry has changed since those days of ‘three-martini lunches’, ‘corner offices’ and ‘board rooms filled with only white men’ is by way of the work that it produces. Being able to spend time on fine-tuning and crafting a full-page, copy print ad marked a rare opportunity for Amy. “I loved it,” she says. “There is something so pure about a long copy print, newspaper ad. In the days of 160 page decks with 360 degree asset plans, there was something so refreshing about taking the time to actually craft a single print ad.”
TBWA\Chiat\Day New York’s new address is 220 East 42nd Street, in between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It is an “office for modern ways of working” and “there is a place for you” whichever way you want to work, says Amy. There are collaborative spaces to come together but also quiet spaces for solo working. There are zero offices, And after three years of working apart, they wanted to create fun places for people to come together, so there are four different cafe spaces where Amy and the team hope people will socialise and bump into each other almost like little coffee shops within the agency.
“I also tried to make choices I would make for my home because we want our people to be comfortable when they are here,” says Amy. “The office feels bigger and more lively than our Madison Avenue space. Although the 488 Madison was a wonderful home for the agency for decades it felt rooted in the past. Moving to a new space that feels modern and fresh is exactly what we need to set us up to write the next creative chapter of this amazing agency.
“Parting ways with Madison Avenue is a good thing. It was iconic, yes, but it’s time to move on to what’s next.”