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RIP Madison Avenue


Geometry Global North America’s CCO Bruce Henderson on why he doesn’t miss the Madison Avenue monolith of old school adland

RIP Madison Avenue

To say that Madison Avenue is no longer the epicenter of the advertising world wouldn’t surprise anyone who has worked in the business in New York in the past 20 years.

Of course the avenue has always been as much a metaphor for the ad business as the nerve center of its activity. Yes, great agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, BBDO and others once occupied buildings on Madison Avenue, particularly in the mid-20th century. Agencies that in those days single-handedly positioned clients’ brands and products, conceived campaigns, and purchased the media that brought their messages to households all over America, and the world. 

Today far fewer of the world’s great agencies call Madison Avenue home. And along with that physical dispersion of agencies has come a tremendous dispersion in clients’ marketing communications activities—and dollars—beyond traditional ad agencies. 

Positioning work is now done by consultancies like McKinsey, digital marketing work is done by technology firms like IBM, production is outsourced to a range of company types, media is planned and directly sold by a media concerns like Hearst or platforms such as Facebook, and any or all of it may be taken in house by a growing number of internal client agencies.  

So does the metaphor of Madison Avenue still have meaning? If by that, we mean an industry where monolithic NY-based traditional advertising agencies solely determine the fate of client brands and products, the answer is unquestionably “no.”

The world of marketing communications has become far too complicated and fast paced for any single agency or type of business to do everything needed to properly market brands and products on a national or global scale. At our agency alone, we frequently partner with four or more other agencies—often a cross-WPP team—on a single client initiative.

In other words, what we once called “Madison Avenue” now branches out into an increasingly-complex landscape populated by holding companies, agencies, consultancies, technology platforms and even regular citizens who—for reasons of their own—post about products they use and love (or conversely, abandon and abhor). 

The good news is that there’s room at the table for everyone, even if the portions are getting smaller for some while they get larger for others. It’s a very good time, for instance, to work at a Shopper Marketing agency, or anywhere that can demonstrate real, measurable impact on sales. And if you want to work in the marketing communications field, there’s a far broader range of places and ways to do so. 

As for me, I can’t say that I miss the Madison Avenue of old, because it was already in its death throes when I took my first job at a digital agency in 2000. While it sounds like it must have been a fun place to be, we’re having a pretty good time at 47th and 11th. And so are my friends at the offices of Facebook, Google, and IBM. 

So, goodbye Madison Avenue. And may you rest in peace. 

Bruce Henderson is CCO at Geometry Global North America

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VMLY&R COMMERCE US, Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:19:45 GMT