Two advertising legends talk creativity and how it happens. (One of them swears a lot.)
BY ANNE CASSIDY
One is the creative leader behind Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. The other has been dubbed the original Mad Man.
Lee Clow, the chairman of TBWA Worldwide, made the iconic “1984” commercial that launched the Apple brand. He also helped create the Taco Bell Chihuahua and the Energizer Bunny and received a lifetime achievement award, the Lion of St. Mark, in Cannes this year.
George Lois, 81, hates Mad Men. But he loves the big idea, which was very much in evidence in the campaigns he created for Xerox, MTV, and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the series of iconic covers he designed for Esquire magazine. Both have dedicated their lives to great advertising. Here, at times at odds with conventional wisdom, is their advice on how to make it.
Lee Clow and George Lois
Lois is fed up with everyone chattering about tech. “Everybody talks about technology, technology, technology, and I talk creativity, creat-fucking-tivity, creat-fucking-tivity,” he says. “Jesus Christ, figure out how to do great ideas, that’s what it’s all about.. . . . You’re not going to be great by figuring out the technology. Someone else will figure out the fucking technology.”
Clow, though not driven to as much swearing, is equally wary of the current attitude toward technology. He notes that the proliferation of “new media touch points” has created a lot of confusion that can steer brands off track. “The beginning is the idea and the media falls out of that,” he says. He believes technology should to be part of the next creative revolution and sees social media as an “amazing new frontier.” But, he warns, creatively, we’re not there yet. “The creativity is still kind of missing, even though the opportunity of new media is huge,” Clow says.
George Lois is not known for his modesty. And he’s not much for our modern views on collaboration. “I look in the mirror and I work with the brightest person I know,” he says. He advises that you need to trust and believe in yourself and do your own work in order to be great. If you think that surrounding yourself with bright people will allow you to make good work, then “you’re in trouble,” he says. Great advertising happens when the copy and visuals work together, so if you can be your own art director and copywriter, all the better, Lois believes. “It’s a lot easier if you can do it all by yourself,” he says. But most important, don’t let anyone force you to do bad work. In Lois’s words: “If you’re working and you’re not trying to be great, give up.”
Despite all the criticism of the industry awards circuit, public acknowledgment of great work is instrumental in fueling creativity in Clow’s view. Awards have driven “the art and product of creativity” and worked as “a tool to celebrate and push the work forward,” he says. But we still need to figure out the right way to award great thinking in the digital sphere. “Awards are going to have a big role in allowing new media to become more artful,” he says.
“Think Different” campaign.
It’s a tough time to start a career in advertising, Clow believes. This, he puts down to an explosion of new media forms that make it difficult to know which “door to go into.” He predicts a shakeup, led from the front by creativity. “There is always going to be creative energy coming out of the next generation,” he says. People need to figure out the best entry point, be it a design company or ad agency, to become what Clow calls, a “media artist.” “Creative people, by virtue of them being creative people, will find a creative way to sort out the business,” he concludes, with the caveat: “It might be after George and I are done working.”
Clow puts his ability to think creatively down to his genes. “I think some of us are lucky enough to be born with more right brain than left brain. Our intuition and admiration for thinking out of the box creatively starts very young,” he says. “I think it’s more genetic than anything else.”
Lois calls his talent for communication a “weird gift.” But it’s not a gift that every creative person has, not even the greats. In his own inimitable, expletive-ridden way, Lois muses: “Picasso, one of the greatest of all, could not do fucking advertising. . . . Assholes like us do great advertising.”