For more than a decade, “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z has been a globally recognized celebration of New York City’s grit, glamour and hard-earned opportunities.
Recently, the 2009 song has taken on a new role that reflects the city’s pride in its resilience.
When patients are discharged from Montefiore Health System hospitals after recovering from Covid-19, the hospital staff plays “Empire State of Mind” in celebration. That inspired Montefiore and the recently founded agency Alto to feature the song, reportedly never before used in advertising, as the soundtrack to a new ad celebrating front-line medical workers.
The spot, “Canyon of Heroes: A Tribute to Our Brave Healthcare Heroes,” is the first work from Alto, founded by Hannes Ciatti. Ciatti’s former agency, JohnXHannes, won the Cannes Lions Health Grand Prix in 2018 for its 43-minute Montefiore-branded film, “Corazon,” about organ donation.
The new ad revives the title “Canyon of Heroes,” traditionally referring to the section of lower Broadway in the Financial District where ticker-tape parades have traditionally been held, including celebrating the end of World War II. It’s set to Keys’ piano version of “Empire State of Mind.”
“This is an indelible moment in time for all of us, and for Alto as a new creative company this campaign will be part of what we never forget about it,” said Ciatti, founder and chief creative officer of Alto. “It’s our first campaign as an agency, but more importantly it is one small way of paying tribute to the heroes who are saving lives every day.”
The spot originated with footage of Montefiore hospital employees triumphantly playing “Empire State of Mind” to mark the recovery of Covid-19 patients. Keys replied to a tweet about the new tradition, saying she was honored to see her song used for this celebratory purpose.
The footage inspired creatives to look back at New York’s history of celebrating its heroes.
“We always talk about campaigns driven from ‘real’ cultural insights, and this is a perfect example,” Ciatti said. “In New York, ticker-tape parades are seminal moments that, in many cases, become part of our cultural history—from World War II, astronauts to world champions, Broadway gets transformed into a Canyon of Heroes. Now we have new heroes, but we can’t come together to celebrate them, and we wanted to do the next best thing so we’ve created a powerful campaign to give New York’s healthcare heroes the ticker-tape parade they deserve, despite the city still being on lockdown.”
The campaign also features out-of-home work from street artist Tristan Eaton, known for large-scale mural work and a collage approach to pop culture imagery. A website built for the campaign allows healthcare workers to put themselves into the imagery as well.
“Like with a real ticker tape parade, we saw incredible movement from partners across the city to make this happen,” Ciatti said. “From Alicia Keys and Jay-Z permitting the first commercial use of ‘Empire,’ to famed artist Tristan Eaton creating our iconic murals, to The New York Times and reporter Nicholas Kristof providing footage from a story they shot inside the frontlines at Montefiore-Einstein, New York really came together. It’s an unheard of collaboration, and a silver lining.”