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SH136 Clow

SH136 Clow

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Published by Simon Wakelin

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Published by: Simon Wakelin on Jun 27, 2012
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06/27/2012

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L Clw
Currently worldwide creativedirector and chairman forTBWA\Chiat\Day, LeeClow’s dynamism andstaying power has never beenin doubt. Teaming up withJay Chiat back in the 70s, he went on to create some ofadvertising’s most innovativeand memorable campaigns –such as

for Macintosh.His work has changed the very nature of the industryand pushed creativity intothe limelight where it hadalways belonged. He talksto
Simon Wakelin
retro aCtive:
I
t was a few years after Chiat\Day opened for business thatLee Clow came knocking at its door. An art director at NWAyers at the time, Clow was tired of the creative restraint andnarrow thinking that surrounded him. As a result, Clow wasdrawn to Chiat\Day’s unique and riveting forms of advertising.It was also one of the rst agencies to open and have itsheadquarters based in Los Angeles. It was 1968 and Jay Chiathad recently formed the agency with Guy Day. They were anunconventional pair who snubbed traditional advertising witha certain amount of glee. Clow recalls:
“Agencies were very much in the New York Mad Men mould back then. The account guys were incharge and the creative teams were second classcitizens. When Chiat\Day opened it was like noother agency out there. It was the only place thatseemed receptive to creative thinking.” 
Chiat\Day prided itself on its non-conformist attitude,constantly tinkering with advertising’s expectations. Jay Chiateven pulled a masterful stunt landing Western Harness Racingas a client when he rst opened the agency. He bet its presidentthat he would raise attendance by 15 per cent if they gave himtheir business. Needless to say, Chiat kept the client.Clow himself related to the agency’s attitude.A sunburned and stoked surfer at the time, he admits that,
“Surers were more like pirates compared to the jocks on the ootball team. It was the exact samenon-conormist attitude with Chiat\Day. Surfngis an individual sport where you have to develop your own creative skills and work with thisbeautiul, natural orce. Surfng shaped mycreativity, my individuality.” 
   P   H   o   T   o   G   R   a   P   H   s  :   s   i   m   o   n   w   a   k   e   l   i   n
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TH CHIAT\DAxIC
Clow became part of the Chiat\Day force in 1971.
“The frst day I walked in it was thehighest o highs. I’d reached thePromised Land. They oered mesomething I had never experiencedbeore: the opportunity to be as goodas I could be. Then I wondered i I waseven good enough to do the job.” 
Throughout the 70s Clow soaked in theChiat\Day vibe, one that eschewed standardpractices and allowed him to create his ownunique brand of advertising. The agency nailedclients including Viviane Woodard Cosmetics,made quirky ads for KNBC and shaped a seriesof breakthrough ads for Honda. By the mid-70sClow was promoted to associate creative directorof Chiat\Day’s LA oce.Then, quite inexplicably, Honda suddenly leftfor a bigger agency. Responsible for three-quartersof Chiat\Day’s income, it was a huge loss. Withit came rumours insinuating that the company’ssuccess had bred arrogance. Clow admits to thearrogance, but also states that after you turn outsuperlative work clients can often go elsewhereto nd an agency to supply in-depth service.“It’s a very tough business because you alwaysend up being a vendor,” he explains on losingclients in general.
“You are easily dismissed andreplaced, especially when a newmarketing jerk signs on and decides toshake things up. Even i you’ve builtequities or the brand and told storiesthat have made it amous, you can stillbe out on the street the very next day.” 
Clow responded to the debacle by makinga name for the agency with Yamaha motorcycles.That account led to others, including SuntoryRoyal Whiskey's Midori Melon Liqueur, AlaskaAirlines and the Olympia Brewing Company.By 1980 Chiat\Day was established enoughto open an oce in New York and purchase anagency in San Francisco, one that delivered aclient that would revolutionise technology andusher in a new era of advertising.
AL CMTAD
1984
It was when Jay Chiat acquired Regis McKennaAdvertising that a new account was nabbed, alittle-known technology company called AppleComputer Inc.Clow did not immediately take on the account.He was brought in later to help handle itsdicult-to-please owner, Steve Jobs. “There hewas, just a kid, maybe 25 years old, but he was anincredibly stimulating and exciting guy,” recallsClow on his rst meeting with Jobs. He continues:
“I was totally motivated by [Jobs'] energy and passion, and he came totrust in me. We both cared about thesame things. That relationship endedup being one o the most memorableevents o my whole career. Hechanged my lie dramatically.” 
Clow also changed the face of advertisingwith
1984
 , a dark Orwellian tale that unveiledthe mighty Macintosh computer to the world.The idea, taken from an abandoned print ad, hadmuch potential. Ridley Scott was set to direct –but still Clow had his doubts over the product:
“I didn’t think I was working on thecoolest brand in the world. I didn’teven know i we could make sense o what a personal computer was, butSteve kept saying how it wouldchange the world, how everybodywas going to use one.” 
When nally released, 1984 made advertisinga truly cultural phenomenon. It swept up a bountyof awards that year, winning the Grand Ee, aCannes gold, a Belding Sweepstakes and a Clio.In the wake of its success Chiat\Day secured afresh bunch of tasty accounts including Nike,Porsche, and Pizza Hut.
AWADHW
Awards have gured deeply in the Clowexperience over the years, and have also helpedhim formulate his creative likes and dislikes.“I taught myself the business from awardannuals,” he admits. “I studied them like textbooks. There weren’t a bunch of ad schools whenI started out, and I couldn’t aord to go to ArtCenter [College of Design, Pasadena] where mosttalented ad people went. Those annuals becamebibles to me. I still have them all over my house.”As for the variety of award shows attendedover the years he recalls Cannes back in the 80s.
“Cannes, or me, was probably themost glamorous – but the leastarticulate – show because decisionsseemed to be made on a verygeopolitical basis rather than acreative one.” 
Clow feels the best award shows are thosededicated to the work and less to the glamour,“but even the Clios tried to become the Oscarsof advertising. Plus, sometimes, award shows endup being judged by CDs or ACDs who arecompletely full of themselves. But, at the end ofthe day, we have to try and recognise what’s goodin our industry, even if it’s jaundiced. The onlything I can say is that if you do something trulyamazing it will become highly recognised.”Ego is also a big part of the award showdynamic, and as much as one may bemoan thepolitics and the lack of talent judging the work,Clow admits that, hey, you still want to win:
“You always want to win, but i youdon’t it ends up being a motivator –even i you rationalise why you didn’tget an award. Ultimately awardshows do matter because creative people need recognition. They desireto be acknowledged or how talentedthey are.” 
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