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new york’s a go-go and everything tastes nice. or does it? February 15, 2008

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, beer, brand experience, cloverfield, new york, spam the monkey, starbucks, virgin atlantic.


view from bbh offices new yorkview from bbh offices new york 2

So I went to New York a few weeks back for work to meet some folks, do some meetings, present some work etc etc. Work side all good. Although I found myself oddly detached from it all. And I’m still unsure as to why this was. Here’s my thoughts on various subjects and maybe by the time I’m through I’ll have figured it out.


andy sipowicz boy george

Last time I went to NYC, I was a wee lad of some 18/19 years of age. I flew in solo to meet up with my then girlfriend who’s sister lived out there and she’d gone ahead. I remember a fearsome true noo yoiker at the passport control who looked not unlike the great Andy Sipowicz in the glory days of NYPD Blue. Somewhat scared I managed to mumble my way through my responses and at the same time ascertain that that ever-so-familiar-looking chap that had just been frog-marched round the corner was one Boy George and that he had to be “searched” as he was a known drugs felon. Rubber glove time, George. That made me even more petrified. Anyway, I got through and met up with everyone and had a blast.

But this time round JFK was a soulless place. Posters on the front of the customs desks bleating on about our pledge to do this and that. A bored customs official motioning for me to get finger-printed, stare at the screen and then out to baggage. Hardly intimidating at all. I felt let down. Where was Andy? Or Jimmy Smits? She didn’t even have a noo yoik accent. Perhaps this is where my feeling of being let down started?

The subway

manhattan subway map

For some reason I’ve always had the mentality when it comes to expenses that I treat it as if it’s my own money. Perhaps that’s what comes from being brought up in the direct business where budgets have never been plentiful for that type of thing. Or you’d never get it signed off and be fuming at the largess of your choices. I remember a chap who used to work at an agency with the letters T, J and W (in a different order, I try to protect the innocent) where they would regale us of tales of them going left as they entered the plane and the clients going right to the cheap seats. That always struck me as odd. I digress. Again.

The subway. So, I decided to take the subway. Perhaps naively buoyed by my experiences of the trains in the Netherlands which are clean, punctual and cheap and our own dear Expresses of Heathrow and Gatwick which are clean and punctual but not cheap. I presumed that JFK to Manhattan would have a similar route (that’s pronounced root, not rowt by the way). So I hopped on the terminal train type thing to one of the Metro terminuses. And then completely baffled by the need to buy a card. How much? No info. Ask an attendant? No English spoken here it seems. Ask a fellow traveller (with two l’s)? Essentially, you have to buy a ticket and the train system thing debits you $7 for the trip to anywhere in Manhattan. So I try and buy $7 worth but it doesn’t take my card. I am in America and it rejects American Express. So I have to break into a $20 as that’s all the cash machine plopped out. But it doesn’t give change. I am now down on the deal and feeling annoyed. I then step outside. Feckin freezing! Minus 6 says the outsized thermometer. Jesus. Thankfully I had my gloves.

new york subway
The train arrives. Plastic seats, slight musty smell. And everyone looking a bit 1980s with big, heavy trainers (not sneakers) and puffa jackets. I have to admit that I felt a little intimidated as I realised the journey was not Heathrow Express 15 minute, more likely 40 minutes stopping at most major outposts. The 1980s link was further reinforced when a group of young lads got on and turned their ghetto blaster on and proceeded to break dance and rap in the carriage. They were pretty good actually and one of them must have only have been 12 years old. I wonder if his mum (mom) knew or cared how earned his lifestyle stripes?
Finally I made it Times Square. Well, not actually. I forget where I actually got off but then I had to walk for literally 25 minutes underground to a Times Square exit. Signage was poor and I asked a policeman (cop) where the exit was. “Pardon me?” I speak English!! On the way I passed at least three breakdance groups. I wondered if a Life on Mars moment had occurred a few times especially with one group dancing to Billy Jean. Most bizarre.

Eventually exiting, again I found myself being hit by the cold – it was a mild 12 degrees when I left Blighty. Eventually I found the hotel after belatedly discovering that Broadway was in fact 7th Avenue. Why do they do this? Is it to confuse Johnny Foreigner? I actually found navigating my way around quite easy with the block system but that annoyed me. It’s the small things, people.


w hotel

The W in Times Square. Very trendy, very cool but also very dark. Couldn’t see in the lift to hit my floor number so ended up going up and down a few times and squinting by the small amount of light that was emitted when the doors opened. Eventually found my way to the 39th floor and had a not at all bad view up 7th Avenue.

view from w hotel new york

And a big billboard of Corona beer staring at me. Mmm, beer. Mmm, mini bar. I wonder if they see a spike in Corona sales in the side of the building? It worked on me.

Room was what you’d expect of a trendy, urban style-seeker hotel. But why oh why do hotels have such noisy air con units? Every hotel I’ve ever stayed in seems to have the same problem. And I always switch it off. Not the green hippy in me, just the fact I like it peaceful. Perhaps I should work out how to make a silent air con system and make my millions of dollars?


I explained that I’ve been before a while ago and I somehow had this romantic memory of tall buildings, cool places and just generally jaw-droppingly cool. Maybe I was just in the wrong parts of town. Maybe my head wasn’t fully wired to wanting to do stuff. Maybe because it got agreed last minute that I didn’t have time to plan or try and get in touch with (reach out/connect) some people I know in NYC. For example, the very week I go to New York, Spam’s mum is in Aruba for a pitch. I’ve been there too. I liked it. A lot. So I was probably in the wrong headspace for it. Nonetheless I wandered a bit, went into some shops etc. Macy’s felt like a 1970s department store not too dissimilar to Grace Brothers.

Dear Macy’s, have you never visited Selfridges for what a cool, aspiring department store brand should be?

MOMA – nice shop. Couldn’t be arsed (bothered) to go to the museum. Which is odd because I actually wanted to. Again, a clue as to my headspace. Hersheys/M&Ms stores – full of chocolate and cheesy stuff. Annoyed that the Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup Cakes were not available in an easily manageable format for me to take home. Grrrr. I took a walk down 6th Avenue. Why is every other shop a chemist (drug store) or have peep shows? All felt a bit brown, dull and especially run down. Everything seemed in need of repair. Again, the 1980s seemed to resurface.

Felt compelled to go to the site of the World Trade Centre. Last time I was there was just after some less successful terrorists had tried to car bomb the basement so you couldn’t get anywhere near it. Couldn’t see much this time either as it’s a massive building site. Thought I’d feel some emotion. I felt more thinking about going than when I was there. Probably because you can’t see anything. I thought there was a memorial thing there. Either I didn’t find it (again, crappy signage) or not there. Looked out over the water at the Statue of Liberty. Took a cab back uptown to hotel. Ate in the hotel. Nice food. Wine had a lot of sediment.


The city was awash with advertising for Cloverfield. I’ve wanted to see this for a while as it looked interesting and different on the trailers, had an innovative digital campaign utilising user generated content. And more practically I was convinced I wouldn’t get to see it at home. So I took myself off to the cinema. Experience-wise not at all different to the American inspired multiplexes we have in the UK these days. One huge difference was the size of the drink I got. I asked for a regular. It was HUUUGE. Literally about 3-4 litres in a massive receptacle that required two hands to hold it. It was also so sugary sweet that I could only stomach a few sips.

Onto the film. After the initial nausea caused by the hand-held style and the character setting the film really sets off about 20 mins in and from there it is edge of seat stuff. I hadn’t quite realised that it was a bit of a monster film. And reminded me of the horrible little critters in Resistance: Fall of Man. Really enjoyed the film although again slightly odd seeing a disaster movie set in New York when you are there. Un-nerving when they’re way up in a building and you can hear the wind howling outside and when you get back to your hotel and hear the wind howling in the corridors. I think the threat of the monster and the non-conclusions of the film were the most interesting parts. You never knew why the creature appeared and assumed that at the end they had to total the area and the monster along with assuming the protagonists died. An innovative piece of film-making with some really good effects. Although the prat (idiot) who shouted out after the helicopter crash moment near the end “wooo! now that’s a movie!” somewhat spoiled it for me. Also had the Under Construction trailer for the new Star Trek film also by JJ Abrams which should be exciting judging by his Lost and M:I3 outings.


starbucks name on cup

On every corner. Literally. And oddly, not another coffee house brand in sight. At least you get choice in the UK: Nero’s (actually the nicest in my humble opinion), Coffee Republic, Costa etc. No, every one a Starbucks. Despite this, some thoughts: the coffee not as strong as at home. In fact a bit insipid. I did like the fact that someone would ask you in line what you wanted and then radio it to the barista and there it would be scrawled with your name indecipherable on it. Speeded the process no end. Something we could learn over here where sometimes we seem hopeless at efficient service.

I also discovered that Starbucks is now the natural home for weirdo’s. Two examples here for you. One, a guy who spoke to himself quite loudly all the time. Two, another guy (it’s always guys) who would constantly keep standing up, re-setting his clothes and then sitting down. A touch of OCD? I backed away from them and found a corner to myself in both instances.


Virgin Atlantic, premium economy. Serene, nice food, comfy seats. Good selection of entertainment. Good supply of wine when sat on the tarmac at JFK for 3 hours when power failure at the tower grounded everyone. Makes you never want to fly economy again. And the overall experience was miles better than BA who I flew to Boston last year.


Spam got in on the act. After missing out on South Africa, he made sure he jumped into my hand luggage here. A Spam Show will follow.

So I felt a bit flat. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the lack of planning. Maybe I was just not in the right mood. Maybe I wanted to be at home. But it didn’t feel very go-go or taste that nice to me. Just a bit drab and dreary and 80’s. Or maybe London actually is a lot more interesting these days?

(pics at top taken from 19th floor in BBH offices on 6th Avenue. Nice offices, nice people.)




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