Tuesday, September 1, 2015

View From Madison Avenue: Why "Madison Avenue" Means Advertising

Just for fun, I thought I would write about the original Madison Avenue and why that moniker is still synonymous with advertising.  This is from my memory and some research, but others, who may be older and more schooled can correct me and add to the list.

Up until the sixties and early seventies, the list of ad agencies which were actually on or near Madison Avenue was enormous.  Here is a partial list of ad agencies from both memory and research as being on Madison Avenue, all between about 38th Street to 60th Street, in no particular order: BBD&O (it had an ampersand then); Dancer, FitzGerald, Sample and Compton (two huge agencies merged together to form Saatchi & Saatchi); Gumbinner-North; Y&R; Wunderman Ricotta & Kline (not yet merged with Y&R), Lennon &  Newall; D’Arcy Masius McManus (forerunner of DMB&B); Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein; Ted Bates; Benton & Bowles; Cunningham & Walsh and a whole bunch of other smaller agencies, most of which are long merged or forgotten. Ogilvy & Mather was on 48th Street just off Madison. (How’s all this for a trip down memory lane! If you can think of other major agencies that were once on Madison Avenue, let me know.)

The agencies I just listed were huge, most in the top ten or twenty in the country.  There were many others, all located between Fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue (Doyle, Dane Bernbach was daring by being in a building just west of Fifth Avenue in a building which ran between 42nd and 43rd), in the upper thirties to the low sixties. McCann was on Lexington in the low forties, for ages.  But Madison Avenue was the epicenter. If you were in advertising, most ad agencies just had to be on or near that fabled street.

Today, there is just DDB, Rapp, TBWA/Chiat Day, (all part of Omnicom which is headquartered on Madison Avenue), Strawberry Frog and Havas Health.  That’s it for traditional agencies on Madison.  Even Y&R moved west just this year.  Wow.

It is interesting how things have changed. In researching this post, I found a comment that when, in the 1950’s, a then major agency, Erwin Wasey, moved from Madison Avenue to Third Avenue it was considered “daring”.  That really all changed when Ted Bates, then a powerhouse agency (Best known for creating the “Unique Selling Proposition” – USP.) moved from the east side to Broadway and 44th Street in the late sixties. 

Then, in the late seventies when Geer Dubois, a small to mid-sized creative shop, moved from mid-town to lower Fifth Avenue, it was highly controversial; as I recall, it was heresy for them to have moved there.  As a result, downtown space became synonymous with smaller boutiques.  I remember when my partners and I started an agency in the late seventies and my creative partners felt we had to be in mid-town because they did not want to be thought of as a small, creative shop, even though that is exactly what we were.  I think that attitude finally changed in the 1980’s when Saatchi & Saatchi moved down to Hudson Street. That kind of opened the flood gates for ad agencies to locate wherever they wanted to be.

Of course, today there are agencies everywhere, some are down in the financial district.  Ogilvy is way west on Eleventh Avenue and there are several successful agencies in Brooklyn.

But, still, the term Madison Avenue means advertising.


  1. Thanks Paul! What a great trip down (Joe Franklin’s) “Memory Lane”. For sure, Madison Avenue will always mean advertising … just as Seventh Avenue will always mean fashion & apparel; Fifth Avenue, high-end retail; Broadway, theater; 46th Street, “Restaurant Row”; 47th Street, the “Diamond District”; and so on.

    Only thing I might add to this excellent historical advertising geographic summary is the more recent migration of agencies to the Flatiron District, aka “Silicon Alley”. An East Side cross-roads area officially defined as beginning on the north end at 23rd Street (arguably, some say, at Park Avenue South at 32nd Street) and running south toward Houston. However defined, at “hot bed” for high-tech agency start-ups of all kinds. Not to forget Brooklyn’s DUMBO – also the home to many digital agencies and high-tech production houses.

    Hoping I’ve made some useful contribution here, Bill Crandall

    1. None of the areas mentioned in your second paragraph will ever become synonymous with advertising like Madison Avenue, even if there are few agencies left on this fabled street.

    2. Never said they would be synonymous with Madison Avenue, just updating the migration to other areas that you didn't mention. Even when I'm trying to be gracious and helpful, you seem to disagree and attack everything I say. What's up with that? Just want me to go away? Done, if you like. BC

    3. Hey, Bill, why don't you start your own blog instead of constantly using Paul's column as a jumping point for your lengthy 'replies,' which are all about YOU and what YOU know?

  2. Many of the "creative revolution" shops tried to open on Madison Avenue to give themselves the cachet of appearing "big." Among the smaller ones: Della Femina, Travisano & Partners (60th & Madison), Nadler & Larimer (56 & Madison), Ammirati & Puris, Carl Ally (50th & Madison) and, I believe, Brett Shivak & Partners

  3. Paul, what fun to read this! Us Geer DuBois alumni are thrilled to be mentioned in your roundup. Peter Geer was a real estate maverick and a very successful one with a shrewd for cool and affordable. His first move away from Mad Ave was not to lower 5th, but to the then new and glitzy Dag Hammarskjold Plaza by the UN. We were located on the 45th floor, wedged in between SSC&Bs multiple floors. My office, as a cub copywriter, looked east over Queens and had a view of five bridges and LaGuardia. From a working space point of view, this was most certainly the "High Point" of my career

  4. Thanks for the history lesson and nostalgia, Paul. I always enjoy reading your blog to see the names of great, long-defunct New York agencies that were part of my early days in the business.

    For a very brief time, I worked for a tiny agency that was physically located in the 40s on Madison Avenue, thus helping to legitimize the phrase "Madison Avenue veteran" contained in my present-day bio!

    1. I would love to know what the agency is - you can send me an email.

  5. What a fun post! I remember in 2000 when Deutsch moved first from their original space by Union Square to the meatpacking district (now the Google building) and everyone was like, why they heck would you move there? There's nothing there! Then Pastis opened...

    Funny to think of that now.

    I think that the widespread gentrification of Manhattan (and now Brooklyn), the advances in technology and telecommunication, and heck, maybe Uber, have all combined to really allow agencies to thrive anywhere. Though I get the impression the big agencies are still reluctant to make the move to more affordable digs in Brooklyn, because their clients have an expectation that "Madison Avenue" or its environs still holds some cache and convenience.

    Will be fascinating to see where agencies all end up in 10 years. Or whether Google just owns the whole city and subleases to us at their whim.

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