Lee Clow has been making this thing called “advertising” for more than 40 years. He started at Chiat Day in Los Angeles when there were 10 people and 2 accounts and has been there ever since. He prefers to think of what we he does as Media Arts.
Words, pictures, telling stories on behalf of brands.
Whether it’s the famous “1984”commercial for Apple”s Macintosh, or the crazy Energizer Bunny that keeps going and going. Refreshing the world with Pepsi, or celebrating the world of sport for Adidas with the Impossible is Nothing campaign. The love you feel for dogs in Pedigree’s Dogs Rule campaign to asking What’s G for Gatorade, it’s all work people want to watch.
And perhaps there’s no better example of Lee’s impact in the industry than his 30+year partnership with Steve Jobs. They created the now famous work for the rebirth of Apple in 1997. It used walls, pages and films that recognized those who “Think different.” And, during the past 15 years he helped orchestrate Apple’s move into music with iPod & iTunes with the celebrated silhouettes campaign, into phones with the category re-defining iPhone and then creating the ‘campaign of the decade’ Mac vs PC, before forging a whole new category with iPad.
Lee continues to find the business fun and challenging. He believes we are at the beginning of the most exciting time the “advertising” business has ever seen. While lots of people are talking about the challenge of the multi-media future, he believes it is the biggest opportunity for creative minds since the first Creative Revolution of the 1960s.
Lee believes that “today everything can be considered media. The Internet has changed the way people interact with brands. If you like a brand, you can seek it out. If you don’t like a brand, you can criticize it publicly. So everything a brand does must tell its story in a disruptive and artful way. Then people will decide whether they like your brand or will ignore it.”
Since he began with ChiatDay and its humble beginnings at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the agency has grown to be one of the ten largest global networks and is without dispute one of the most innovative and awarded agency networks in the world.
Lee Clow is a member of the One Club Hall of Fame, the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Modern Art’s Advertising Hall of Fame, and has been honored by the Clios with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In This Episode:
- Growing up adopted post WWII
- Identifying his passion for art early on
- The meaning of “applied art”
- How the advertising agency shifted to mavericks leading the way
- Looking for the things he could become obsessive about
- Why he was drawn to advertising
- How the idea originated for the Apple Genius Bar
- Finding the romance in advertising, looking for the emotional center of a brand
- From form to formless – having a disruptive nature
- Working closely with Steve Jobs and why “impute” mattered
- Why he’s most proud of the relationships along the journey
- Behind the scenes of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign
- Needing resiliency to overcome the downside of the advertising business
- Finding ideas in listening
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“If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”
“I was looking for the thing that I thought I could do well enough that I could be obsessed about it.”
“The fun of telling brand stories is finding the things about it that are exciting or interesting or funny that make a brand into a personality that you like and admire.”
“Advertising needs to be more than just the left brain, the logical, it needs to have the emotional part attached.”
“I believe what we do is more of an art form than a science.”
“We’re supposed to find the status quo and punch a hole in it. Find the convention go 180° away from it.”
“When I really found what I loved, it was this storytelling place.”
“The branding of athletes, for the most part, came out of Nike.”
“Bravery is something that has to be encouraged. It’s fragile and people can step away from it easily. They step back from trusting their intuition and become very pragmatic.”
“It’s hard to be brave unless you’re in a culture that says it’s ok to be brave. You should build a culture that challenges everyone to be their best and have the guts to try.”
“One of the biggest frustrations was the amount of energy I put into finding these truths, the soul of brands, only to have people two and three tiers down the food chain get to say no to things I believe are really valuable and really good.”
“Everyone has the desire to be brave but you need to be put in the circumstance where you’re allowed to be brave.”
“Brave is inside of everybody, but it needs an environment that nurtures it and demands and expects it and cultivates it or it can atrophy and you can just give in to go along to get along.”
“With creativity comes ego. Some of the best creative people I’ve ever known didn’t have the ability to listen. They didn’t have the ability to first understand and find the opportunity before they engaged their creative ego. Ideation came before understanding. Then they fall in love with their ideas. That’s their downfall.”
“Having ideas requires being able to think about stuff, putting it away, and then revisiting it.”
- Micki Dorra
- Lance Carson
- Walt Disney
- Bill Burnbach
- Mary Wells
- Phyllis Robinson
- Mark Fenske
- Jean Marie Drew – Disruption
- Frederick Smith – Federal Express Founder