Lee Clow is the genius behind a number of memorable campaigns that leave most of us in the industry wishing we could match just one of his masterpieces. He began his career in advertising at a “dopey agency” whose owner had contempt for the creative department. He only cared about getting and keeping clients, not making great ads. As such, the clients called the shots. If the client said to make the logo bigger, that owner would ask how much bigger. Lee recognized this as one of the reasons ads, industry-wide, were so bad.
Lee thought it was deceitful to allow clients to dictate mediocre work and then bill them for it when he aspired to be so much better. As a result, he formed “the escape committee,” saying, “We can’t stay here. This is the devil’s workshop. We need to find an agency that believes in the right stuff.” Fortunately, he met Jay Chiat and Guy Day, who had formed the fledgling agency Chiat/Day. Clow described the two as having “a rebel spirit,” which is what he tried to champion at the other agency.
By the time Lee left his former agency, he was not allowed back through their doors. They realized that he was leading a creative rebellion. Clow’s take was, “C’mon people, rise up. They can’t do sh*t unless we make ads for them. We should be in charge!” He wasn’t wrong.
A Quick Aside
If you work with an ad agency and you’re dictating creative to them — and they’re letting you — you should find a different agency. Why pay them for their expertise if you’re calling the shots? It makes no sense. A good agency will be confident enough in its ability and creative enough to present you with creative ideas that you could never dream of.
Like I said earlier, Clow’s work is both great and prolific. He believes “advertising is an art, a media art that evokes emotion in consumers to make them laugh, cry, surprise, or inform.” Throughout his career, he did just that. From the Energizer Bunny to the Taco Bell chihuahua to Apple’s Here’s to the crazy ones to countless other campaigns, Clow lived by the words “Make it smart. Make it beautiful. Have fun.”
Many people believe that Lee, along with Steve Hayden, created perhaps the best ad ever. Have a look.
I can’t say this any better than he can, so here’s a bonus video for you.
Note: The dopey agency story is adapted from Lee Clow’s part in the documentary “Art & Copy.” It’s worth watching.
If you’re looking for an agency to push you out of your comfort zone, you know what to do.