CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: Buzz of New York is putting the London scene in the shade

I spent last week in the capital of global advertising interviewing more Kings of Madison Avenue for our ongoing feature series. I discovered a few things. First, the American corporate adman’s uniform of stripy coloured shirt topped with whiter-than-white collar and cuffs has been replaced this season by the monogrammed shirt. Second, one of my interviewees hasn’t ever told his wife the percentage, let alone the value, of his personal stake in the holding company, so he wasn’t about to share it with me. Third, another gets up at 4.30am every day to read the Wall Street Journal before a (presumably solitary) 6am breakfast. Fourth, an extraordinarily large percentage of US commercials are now for embarrassing medical conditions requiring the use of cure-all patent medicines. But the fifth thing I discovered was a new creative impetus within the New York advertising scene.

I spent last week in the capital of global advertising interviewing

more Kings of Madison Avenue for our ongoing feature series. I

discovered a few things. First, the American corporate adman’s uniform

of stripy coloured shirt topped with whiter-than-white collar and cuffs

has been replaced this season by the monogrammed shirt. Second, one of

my interviewees hasn’t ever told his wife the percentage, let alone the

value, of his personal stake in the holding company, so he wasn’t about

to share it with me. Third, another gets up at 4.30am every day to read

the Wall Street Journal before a (presumably solitary) 6am breakfast.

Fourth, an extraordinarily large percentage of US commercials are now

for embarrassing medical conditions requiring the use of cure-all patent

medicines. But the fifth thing I discovered was a new creative impetus

within the New York advertising scene.



In the past, it would have been easy to trot out a glib answer to the

question ’Whatsamatta with New York advertising?’. This is because the

city that redefined the business in the 60s also managed to define

what’s wrong with it in the 90s.



In the 60s, New York was about Doyle Dane Bernbach churning out

infectious work for VW and Avis that was less about selling and more

about building a relationship with consumers in a simple, smart and

disarmingly honest way. By the 90s, the Big Apple equalled Big

Advertising Business. Fortune 500 companies went there to find big,

serious agencies. From a creative point of view, New York fell victim to

a deadly lack of single minded-thought, a deadly emphasis on big-budget

execution over the big idea and an even deadlier assumption that the

majority of consumers are brain dead. Meanwhile, Goodby & Silverstein,

Wieden & Kennedy, Chiat Day and Fallon McElligott - founded by

risk-takers with entrepreneurial clients sharing a similar stomach for

risk - showed up the Eastern establishment by setting up shop out West

and doing original work for Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Apple and BMW.



It has been the arrival of shops like Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners,

Fallon McElligott and, more recently, Bartle Bogle Hegarty that has

started a ripple of renewed enthusiasm in the creative community in New

York. These agencies want to do good work that crosses borders. Old

rules like ’humour doesn’t travel ’ do not apply. This state of mind,

coupled with the fact that the major US groups have price/earnings

ratios that WPP can only dream of achieving (Omnicom at 48, new kid on

the block Snyder Communications at 70) means there is an advertising

buzz in the Big Apple that London, for all its creative aura, seems to

lack at present. Perhaps we’re all too busy wondering who’s going to be

bought next by those men in the monogrammed shirts?



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