The Creative Spirit of Madrid, Where Past and Future Mingle

Tradition meets openness in the Spanish capital

Madrid is the sixth in the "Creative Cities" series, which highlights markets that have been growing in strength as creative hot spots. 

Madrid or Barcelona? It's one of those great dilemmas, and not just for football fans. These two great cities are Spain's perennial rivals. In terms of city brand profile, Barcelona has arguably edged ahead over the years, thanks to a legacy that includes the artist Guadí, the '92 Olympics, the city's beach life, easy access from France and a more international vibe. By contrast, Madrid is far from the sea and high up, with a strong claim to be Europe's highest capital city at over 650 meters.

Yet for a capital city that is deep in Spain in every respect—geographically, historically and culturally—Madrid is strikingly open to the world. The disarmingly friendly locals, Madrileños, are keen to interact with everyone and seem ready to have a great time any time of the day or night. In fact, for all the city's embarrassment of photogenic attractions—fine architecture, great art and cultural activities, extensive parks and green spaces, attractive terraces and beautiful weather—it's the sheer buzz of the place that makes it so invigorating.

The population of the city proper is 3.3 million, although that number doubles to 6.6 million when the metropolitan area is taken into account. Around 84 percent of the population are native Spanish while the remaining 16 percent include a good number of Latin Americans. 

Other places in the world say they never sleep, but few that live up to that claim so effortlessly and so wholeheartedly. In Madrid, it's normal to see people of all ages strolling, chatting, eating, drinking, attending cultural events and generally just enjoying life at any time, day or night. Madrid is widely quoted as having more bars per inhabitant than anywhere else in Europe. Furthermore, this desire to indulge and enjoy life is especially true for those who love to dine al fresco. Madrid is obsessed with outdoor eating—an activity that demonstrates a combination of not only a love of really good food, but also being in the know of the most fashionable places.

And yet, somehow, this zest for life doesn't get in the way of Madrid working. In fact, it has proven to be a magnet for business and organizations. Santander, BBVA, Movistar, El Corte Inglés, Repsol, Mapfre and Amadeus all have central offices in Madrid. Since 2016, Google has had a campus in the city to support entrepreneurs and boost startup culture, offering resources, workspaces and classes for anyone who wants to build their own business. Netflix just opened a European production hub in the Tres Cantos area. And to keep it all moving 21st century style, Madrid is being touted as the e-scooter capital of Europe. 

Madrid boasts the lion's share of Spain's advertising agencies (33 percent).  Locals (and newcomers) say agency people are attracted to Madrid because it's a high-energy, safe, multicultural capital city that also lays claim to the best weather in Europe. For people working in the creative economy, the sheer volume and caliber of cultural activities, cultural centers and wealth of art is an inspiration for the creative economy.

Creative industries are concentrated mainly in the central parts of the metropolitan area of Madrid (31 percent), following the North-South central axis of the city. The agencies with the strongest reputations for creativity are near the most vibrant barrios of the city—hipster-loving Malasaña, the LGBT hub of Chueca, and multicultural Lavapies.

Marketing in Spain has to take account of several distinctly Spanish cultural traits. They look for the best value for money, yet they don't mind splashing out to reward themselves. Partly because the Spanish spend more time out and about than in front of a computer screen, the online market hasn't grown as fast as in other European countries. Even so, around 60 percent of the population now shop online. It helps that a massive 75 percent of the country has high-speed fiber, compared with just 5 percent in Germany. Also, distinctively, the Spanish demonstrate the interplay between traditional and modern. Consumers tend to be conservative, with a preference for familiar products, but they are inquisitive, especially the young. With the right messages, they can be tempted to try new things and even make lifestyle changes. Among many surprises, Spain has 46 Bitcoin ATMs.

For marketers and their clients, Madrid has a lot more than the quality-of-life appeal that makes it such a powerful attraction for a certain category of tourists. Other areas of Spain that offer sand and sea get bigger tourist numbers, but the 7.8 million who came to Madrid in 2018 tend to spend more, stay longer and seek out cultural activities and local traditions. Its combination of face-to-face interactions, appetite for life and creative buzz are guaranteed to inspire marketing minds.

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Naomi Troni
Naomi Troni is global chief marketing and growth officer at Wunderman Thompson.

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