"He is a giant. He is the real thing. He is indefatigable. I hate him," -- Dan Wieden, president of Wieden & Kennedy Portland.
Lee Clow is one of the most admired, respected and envied creatives in the advertising business. During his 27-year career at TBWA Chiat\Day, he has pumped out iconic commercials like sausages, the juiciest being Apple's Orwellian "1984" ad --deemed by some as the best ad ever.
During the Seventies, his Honda work attracted attention ("the hatchback of Notre Dame"), along with Pioneer ("have an eargasm") and Suntory Whisky.
The Eighties not only produced the Apple classic, which ushered in the era of megabucks SuperBowl spots, but also the classic Nike "I love LA" ad with Randy Newman.
His penchant for creating pop-culture icons for brands continued with the Energiser bunny, while for Nissan he created the "enjoy the ride" strategy, which inspired a new breed of more imaginative and appealing car ads.
Creative director of the Eighties
The work was hard to top and during the early Nineties, when the agency suffered a downturn, Clow found himself burdened with the tag "creative director of the Eighties".
Determined to prove himself again, Clow went on to enjoy a creative renaissance. This was sparked primarily by Apple, when founder Steve Jobs returned to save the floundering computer manufacturer. His solution was the i-Mac and Clow, whom he called personally to take responsibility for the advertising.
"I don't pick advertising agencies -- I pick people," Jobs famously said at the time.
On Campaign Screen's video and DVD, Clow discusses the Apple experience, the impact of the "1984" ad and the difficulties of creating the "Think Different" campaign almost a decade later.
Clow's creative prowess also re-emerged with work for Taco Bell ("Yo quiero" - which made chihuahuas an overnight hit), Sony PlayStation and a successful pitch for Levi's.
But despite the acclaim and his ripening years, Clow retains his famous laid-back surfer dude persona. Pleasant and down-to-earth, he's like a sun-tanned Santa, with white bushy beard and twinkly blue eyes.
West Coast beaches
The sea air is clearly good for him -- a fact which he recognised when he first joined the industry. He rejected the hub of adland -- New York's Madison Avenue -- in favour of the West Coast beaches inhabited by Chiat\Day. He became the agency's creative director in 1977 and has been at the creative helm ever since.
Although Clow isn't the surfer he used to be, he still enjoys the ocean and finds it a great source of inspiration. He enjoys simple pleasures, such as his dogs and his garden, and hates anything pretentious. So when Omnicom bought the enfant terrible, quirky Chiat Day in 1995 and then merged it with the rather more staid TBWA network, Clow -- like many at the agency -- was not entirely at ease.
But although the famous virtual office was ditched, the West Coast agency has managed to maintain its creative identity and reputation. It is now housed in an enormous blue and yellow warehouse, complete with basketball courts and surfboards -- an environment which 57-year-old Clow still finds irresistible.
"I've always thought I'm an incredibly lucky person. I love what I do and it just never stops being challenging," he says.
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