Agencies and, by extension, markets outside of the biggies work tirelessly to explain how talent can have a more balanced life. Don’t want to spend $4,000 a month on a 200-square-foot studio in San Francisco? Come to Portland. Dropping a bunch of cash to huddle with seven of your closest friends in Los Angeles? Why not consider Knoxville?
Then there’s New York, the poster child of stressful—and expensive—living. While getting to experience one of the world’s great cities is undeniably amazing, there are plenty of people who might prefer to be in second gear (with a little more money in their pockets) a bit more frequently.
Sensing an opportunity to highlight its own city, agency Empower in Cincinnati created a video that serves both as a recruiting tool … and a diss track (albeit a good-natured one) about New York.
The film, which has a Lonely Planet vibe, clocks in just over 2 minutes and covers the typical things that markets outside of New York tout like affordable housing, easier commutes, leaving the office at 5 o’clock and the ability to raise a family in a more low-key environment.
But the kicker in this upbeat song and video is its position in the hook: It’s the city that sleeps, playing off New York’s long-standing nickname, The City That Never Sleeps.
According to Tinus Strydom, Empower’s CCO, it’s not just about attracting talent to the Queen City, but also a chance for the agency to stretch its wings a little more.
“Empower was started as a media company,” Strydom said. “More recently, there’s been a push to put creative and media together. We needed a bit more clarity on the creative side of the business.”
While the video is an obvious showcase, it also works to debunk the myths around where great creativity can come from—and the perception that brands have to look to the Big Apple for reliable work.
“[I was] working at ad agencies in Cincinnati on some project work for national brands, and when it came to shopping for an AOR I’d hear the phrase, ‘We’re looking for a New York agency,’” said Terry Dillon, a creative director at Empower who spent time at agencies in Los Angeles earlier in his career. “It wasn’t a fantastic world-class agency … fill in the adjective … they would look to New York. Without any qualification, they would dismiss Cincinnati.”
Strydom, who grew up in South Africa and has lived and worked in Singapore and New York, pointed out that despite a concentration of clients in specific markets around the world—and Procter & Gamble, the world’s second-largest advertiser is in Cincinnati—there is a roadmap pointing to more nontraditional markets making an impact.
“Wieden + Kennedy started in Portland and put the best creative people into a place where they do the best possible work, and CPB went to Boulder,” he said. “It’s down to who’s inside the walls [of an agency] at the time and how well they’re jamming together.”
Dillon, who wrote the lyrics and is a Cincinnati native, wanted to ensure that the video, with animation from 4Humans in Argentina and music from Fuse in Singapore, made its point in a more fun way without seeming too mean-spirited.
“We kept it deliberately self-deprecating because we’re not knocking New York. It’s a fantastic place with tons going on, but we have things to offer here,” he said. “This is a diss track, but I think everyone can get in on the joke, even New Yorkers.”
Out of the 90,000-plus views, a relatively large proportion of views have come from New York, according to Strydom. And perhaps the non-rested residents of the big city see something they might like.
“The truth is the thing that communicates best,” he said. “The way we always joked about this idea is that if New York is the city that never sleeps, Cincinnati is the city that goes to bed at a reasonable hour.”
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