A True New York Story

The late 1980s marked the beginning of a new era of advertising in New York. Young writers, art directors and account executives were ditching creatively-constraining jobs at the classic Madison Avenue shops to strike out on their own. Virtually overnight, young brash creative agencies were obliterating boundaries and rewriting the advertising playbook.

Ellis Verdi and Sal DeVito

Leading this creative revolution was DeVito/Verdi, founded by two born-and-bred New Yorkers, Sal DeVito and Ellis Verdi. One from Brooklyn, the other from the Upper West Side. Products of the New York City public school system and schooled in the life lessons of growing up in the city, the marriage that became DeVito/Verdi soon gave birth to some of the most creative advertising – often brazen and controversial, but always truth-bearing – the industry has ever witnessed.

Defined by an unmistakable New York “voice” and attitude, the agency’s creative product reflected the grit, honesty, humor, and cynicism of the city.

The fledgling agency got its first bite at the apple, so to speak, when the South Street Seaport docked its account with the agency. (Hmmm. Does pitching New Yorkers on visiting a NYC landmark that is overwhelmingly frequented by tourists sound familiar??)

From there, clients, awards, headlines and accolades poured in to help tell the DeVito/Verdi story. New York brands and companies soon found the one agency that spoke directly to New Yorkers. One that knew who to poke, how we lived, and how we survived every day. It also knew that jaded New Yorkers needed a reality check and a lesson in value(s) from time to time.

If feathers got ruffled, then the messaging was on target. If an ad stopped you in your tracks with a “Holy s#!+” reaction, you knew you had touched everything from a nerve to an organ. And if demonstrations ensued, then the creative worked maybe a little too well.

Over the past 35 years, New York brands and organizations knew exactly who could help give them their “voice.”

Hospitals looking to get healthier admitted they needed DeVito/Verdi. Local, state and national politicians have elected to run with the agency. Media properties know D/V would leave an indelible print upon consumers. And the city’s most iconic retailers have been sold on the agency’s ability to help sell its goods.

Even Washington knew who best to simply communicate that we were all one nation, post 9/11.

Never afraid to tackle the social issues that were unjust or rights that have been threatened, or simply causes that needed to be seen and heard in a brighter light, DeVito/Verdi has created some of the most memorable and arresting ads ever produced. Full stop.

Though DeVito/Verdi has long been New York’s ad agency, its work and reputation has spread beyond the five boroughs. Its award-winning work for Midwest grocers, Boston landmarks, national retailers and healthcare providers in all corners of the country has proven that great advertising doesn’t concern itself with zip codes.

DeVito/Verdi will never lose its New York voice or its enviable understanding of New Yorkers. One campaign it recently created post-COVID to remind New Yorkers why they left somewhere else to live here, and why native New Yorkers remain here, is the perfect example of the agency’s insights into its neighbors. The ads capture precisely what binds New Yorkers to New York. The campaign is all about our shared values of inclusion, tolerance and diversity; our progressive views; the “Straight Talk” you only get from a New Yorker; the city’s authenticity; and a toughness that belies its civility. It’s advertising that only two New Yorkers could create.