The 10 Essential Advertising People of the Year: No. 7 Post-it Note Warriors

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In a tough year, the colorful competition between Manhattan agencies reminded us that advertising is supposed to be fun.

For better or worse, 2016 was a landmark year in advertising, with enough controversies, crises and breakthroughs to fill a decade. To mark its conclusion, Campaign US is highlighting 10 people we believe are essential to understanding the year. We will be counting down our choices starting on Dec. 9, with our No. 1 most essential person revealed on Dec. 22. Click here to see the list as it is revealed.

In a year marked by transparency scandals, discrimination lawsuits, unenlightened CEOs and fake news, the agency Post-it war of 2016 reminded us that advertising, at its heart, is supposed to be fun and creative.

It began innocently enough in May, when someone at Horizon Media’s downtown Manhattan office—exactly who remains a mystery—fashioned a simple "hi" out of Post-it notes in a window facing Canal Street. Then, from across the street, Havas Worldwide shot back with "sup?" Other ad agencies in Horizon’s building, including Omnicom Health Group, Cake Group, Maxus USA, Biolumnia, Harrison and Star and Getty Images, soon got involved. Within days, both buildings’ windows were covered with colorful, masterfully rendered characters, such as Marge Simpson, Spiderman and the Instagram ghost, as well as call-outs such as "Prom?" "Send Nudz" and "Hello from the other side."

The creations were tailor-made for social media, where hashtags like #canalnotes, #postitwars and #windowwars were used 11,000 times during May, according to analytics firm Brandwatch. Horizon Media even created a #canalnotes-themed Snapchat geofilter for a few hours. Bystanders began visiting Canal Street to snap their own photos of the building.

"As much as it was physical, it was a digital phenomenon as well," said Toygar Bazarkaya, Chief Creative Officer of the Americas at Havas Worldwide. "It was cool because it merged the old and new."

What began as a creative way to pass time quickly grew into a global story, attracting media attention from the likes of "Good Morning America," "The Daily Mail" and "The New York Times." DNAinfo even sent a drone to film the action.

"We felt it beyond New York," said Bazarkaya. "I got emails from Latin America and Europe." The Post-it note fever spread to agencies around the world, including ones in Dublin and Tokyo.

Because no one seems to be sure exactly who started this phenomenon, we are naming everyone who participated in the 2016 Post-it Wars our 9th essential advertising person of the year.

In the end, the 2016 Post-it note war will be remembered, not for the vast loss of sticky notes, but for bringing adland together during a challenging time for the industry. "At that time, said Bazarkaya, "to have something happen that came out organically, it bonded us."