April 14, 2024

The MADtown Story

By madtown on March 26, 2018
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MADtown, originally known as AdTown, started way back in 2008. (I think.) The idea was simple: Fuck Ad News. Fuck B&T. Fuck Campaign Brief. (And Mumbrella didn’t exist yet, but a pre-emptive fuck them as well.) We’d do our own news about our own industry in our own state. And not just the big end of town (that mostly doesn’t exist any more. Vale Y&R, Vale Clemenger), but all the businesses, great and small and not so great, that make up our industry.

We weren’t sophisticated enough to have a vision or mission, but if we were, it would have been something about celebrating the breadth and depth and diversity of our industry in South Australia. And fuck the eastern states-centric industry press.

Awards are nice for the people who do that sort of thing, but the industry is much bigger than that. There are plenty of places, including my own, who employ people, and do work, without entering or winning awards. In fact, there are way more of those businesses, than there are the super duper award winning ones. And we almost never hear about them. Which we thought was a bit fucked.

I still remember the day I walked into KOJO to meet with Marty Pepper, who may have been the AADC President at the time, to tell him what I was up to. “I’m gonna start this thing called AdTown. I’m gonna write about what’s going on in the industry. I would have come to you with the idea to do through the AADC but you’ll just talk about it for ten years and then fuck it up.” That was seriously my pitch. I didn’t necessarily want his blessing, but I did think it was probably worth letting him know what I was planning to do.

Likewise I remember going to see Neil, a former client and a bit of a mentor who I often went to for feedback and advice. I told him all about the idea for AdTown while he listened patiently before asking “But how is it going to make money?” I just laughed and said it wasn’t. It was one of the few things I ended up being right about.

Not everything has to be about money. I just believed it was an idea whose time had come, and someone needed to do it, and it may as well be me. Looking back now, I have no idea why I thought that. I had no experience with that sort of thing, pre-Word Press style web technology meant building a website and sending EDMs was an epic nightmare, but I was ignorant enough to not anticipate how difficult it would be and off I went.

While most people don’t know what I’m about to reveal, my plan at the time looked a bit like this: Launch the website. Get all the advertising and design places to send me their press releases. Put them up on a website a bit like pinning them to a digital noticeboard. Get it up and running for about 12 months, then once it was established, hand it over to the AADC to run with their people and sponsor and committees and stuff. Job done. And I’d be outta there.

Here’s what actually happened: In a strategic masterstroke, I launched the website in April 2008, the day after the AADC Awards with a wrap up the awards night to attract as much attention as possible. Then… crickets. Nothing.

From the early days when you could still exploit women in bikinis at the AADC Awards. And Clemenger still existed.

I can be a bit of a fuckwit sometimes, (Some would argue more frequently than just ‘sometimes’), and it hadn’t really occurred to me that the press releases wouldn’t just magically start rolling in to a brand new website no one even knew about on day one. In hindsight, it’s fair to say that was a bit of a critical oversight, but it also shaped the business in a way I could never have imagined.

My original plan had been to publish one story every weekday. And rather than admit failure on day two when there were a grand total of zero press releases to publish, I wrote my own damn story. Then, I did the same thing on day three… four… five… six… you get the idea. And because there was no brief, no client, no sponsors, no stakeholders, no one to answer to, I wrote whatever the fuck I wanted to. I was honest. I was irreverent. I was straight up, straight down, no fucking around.

Don’t get me wrong, we never, ever judged work. Industry people can be pretty fuckity at times when it comes to tearing strips off each other’s work, and we definitely didn’t want to be that. (The comments section of Campaign Brief used to have that covered nicely.) And although it was me writing the stories, I initially wrote completely anonymously, without ever adding my personal opinion or judgement. If someone sent me a campaign that was a big, steaming pile of shit, I ran a story on it anyway. Because at the end of the day, that company, and their work, is as much a part of the industry as the stuff that wins awards. They still employ people. They still service clients. They still create work. So we never ever rejected stories. And we never ever passed judgement.

Also from the early days at an AADC bowling night before Ali Oetjen was just a regular person and not a Bachelorette.

Later on, I started writing personal blogs with my own opinions, and I definitely passed judgement on a few things – on a few notable occasions with spectacular results – but for the most part, it was just about sharing news about the people and the work.

Expecting people to send me news once they did know what we were up to was another thing I’d been naive about. The fancy places didn’t like promoting their work unless they thought it was Cannes Award winning. They didn’t want to be seen to be promoting what they thought was average work, so while I’d been relying on these places to send me lots of stories based on their volume of work, they rarely sent me anything. Which was good in a way, cause it meant I got to write about the places and work no one would usually hear about. But not good in that I had to dig harder to find stories.

Then something else I hadn’t anticipated happened: people liked the no nonsense tone of voice. Which means my plan of doing very little work and just publishing other people’s boring, self congratulatory press releases when they eventually did start coming in, went right out the window. Fuck. The idea of handing it over to the AADC who would be beholden to all sorts of stakeholders and couldn’t say the sorts of things I was saying and would have had to tiptoe around certain stories, went out the window with it. Double fuck.

So much for my original plan to have this easy little website that just published other people’s stories. I was stuck writing stories every single day, for a few years, before then deciding we’d just publish a weekly newsletter every Friday, with a few different stories in there.

We did this for about five years without missing a beat, even while I was based in Phnom Penh, before I eventually spat the dummy over some thing or other and shut it down for a while. Another confession: I pretended it was out of protest, but really it was just a convenient excuse to take a break.

At some point along the line AdTown picked up an ‘M’ and became MADtown to acknowledge the Marketing part of the industry as well as Advertising and Design, and reopened for a while, with a grand plan to become a bit of an industry hub for all aspects of our industry. Like pretty much everything else we planned, that never really worked either, so we continued to deliver news for a while longer before… stopping. Again.

I can’t actually recall if there was a specific reason we stopped. I think we just took a break and never came back. We’ve continued to post stuff on our Facebook Page from time to time, but that was about it until now, when, after considering relaunching, we’ve decided to at least retire our original, historic, piece of shit website and replace it with something vaguely more up to date.

I can only imagine how many stories we wrote, and jobs we shared during that time. All I know is it was a lot. Although possibly my favourite was when we ran an April Fools Day story about Clemenger merging with Fnuky, (which was particularly funny at the time because Kim the top dog at Clems hated David, one of the owners at Fnuky), with the merged agency to be called Clunky. But that’s not the best bit. The best bit is the story got picked up and shared by the actual proper media. I probably should have felt bad about that, but mostly I laughed until my sides hurt. Fuck that was a funny day.

Honestly, after we pulled the plug, I assumed someone else would step into the void we left. Maybe some other random person with delusions of grandeur. Possibly Mumbrella with a local section. Or maybe the AADC who I always thought should be doing something like this in the first place. But no one did, so for the last however many years, there’s been sweet fuck all.

And now, there’s MADtown 3.0. This time, rather than come up with a plan that will never work anyway, I’m going in to it with a new plan: no plan at all. I have literally zero idea what we’ll be doing, or how often or long we’ll be doing it for. We’re just going to make it up as we go along and see what happens. Perhaps we’ll do stories every week, more than likely, it will be a little more random than that. Maybe monthly? Or every 23 days. Who the fuck knows? Not me that’s for sure. But if you’re keen to find out, sign up, (when I’ve worked out how to get that working), and let’s find out together.

Be awesome to each other.

The Mayor of MADtown.