Advertising industry extraordinaire Lee Clow announces retirement in a love note to TWBA\Media Arts Lab. Previously serving as the agency’s Global Directory of Media Arts, Chairman, and founder, he will move into the title of Chairman Emeritus.
Clow’s most famed ad is the legendary “Apple 1984” commercial that blew up before “viral” even existed. He is also the visionary creative behind advertising campaigns such as “Think Different (Here’s to the Crazy Ones)”, “Keeps Going and Going”, and “Impossible is Nothing”.
“The years I spent doing this thing called ‘advertising’ have been fun: challenging, rewarding, maddening—sometimes painful—but mostly, joyful. And I wouldn’t trade a day of it,” Clow mused in his “Love Note to Advertising”.
His retirement was actually announced at a party on Jay Chiat’s birthday, part of the ear-long “Chiat\Day 50” celebration in October 2018. Formally sharing the news with the industry on Valentine’s Day is a callback to Clow’s unconventional ways of sending Valentine’s Day cards to staff, colleagues, and clients.
He will continue to work on a personal film project that tells the history behind some of the most famous and culture-altering advertising pursuits. He will also recall his 50 years at Chiat\Day, retelling stories of the work and its people.
Clow will remain involved in “For Good”, the agency’s social-impact group, where he will advise on select projects for clients who share his commitment to the planet and the living things who inhabit it. “Don’t do the right thing”, he dared the agency, advertising world, and clients on TBWA\Chiat\Day’s 50th anniversary in 2018, “Do the brave thing. Do the thing that doesn’t just defy the status quo, but reshapes it, forever.”
Clow’s career began at Chiat\Day in Los Angeles which narrates his story of “doing the brave thing” through disruptive campaigns that defined “California cool”. He helped lead the successful merger between Chiat\Day and TBWA, strengthening the agency’s reputation as the leading destination for creative professionals.
Troy Ruhanen, President and CEO of TBWA\Worldwide, said, “Lee will always be our creative conscience, his challenge to us, to do the brave thing, to disrupt, will continue to be our North Star. We all love you, Lee.”
“Lee is one of the most talented and visionary leaders in our industry,” John Wren, Chairman and CEO of Omnicom Group, said. “Over the past five decades, he has built a foundation of creative excellence for the TBWA network that has distinguished the agency among its peers. On behalf of the Omnicom family, I would like to thank Lee for his invaluable leadership and significant contributions to our group.”
Perhaps the best example of Clow’s impact on the industry is his 30-plus-year partnership with Apple. From the launch of Macintosh in 1984, to the now-famous “Think Different (Here’s to the Crazy Ones)” campaign that launched the rebirth of Apple in 1997.
During the past two decades, Clow assisted Apple’s moves from music with iPod and iTunes through the “Silhouettes” campaign to phones with the iPhone, and creating the “campaign of the decade,” “Get a Mac (Mac versus PC).” Most recently, he led the creative teams that launched Apple Music into worldwide recognition and worked on the introduction of Apple Watch.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, stated, “During his long partnership with Steve and Apple, Lee told powerful visual stories that elevated new technologies with the passion, creativity and ingenuity that define our own humanity.”
Adweek named TBWA as the “Global Agency of the Year” in 2018, recognizing its relationship with Apple—one of the industry’s most prolific and creative partnerships.
The agency will continue to serve Apple around the world under the leadership of Katrien De Bauw, Global President of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, and Brent Anderson, Global Chief Creative Officer. In 2018, Media Arts Lab won 64 awards.
“In constantly pushing ourselves to reach the creative standard he set, we are better than we ever could imagine being,” said Anderson. “So we’ll do just as he always asked us to do: ‘Make it smart. Make it beautiful. And have fun.’”
Clow often credits his freethinking creative style to his California roots. The agency has established a scholarship at the College of the Arts—School of Art at California State University Long Beach (CSULB), his alma mater, to celebrate his contributions to the creative community and his love for his hometown.
TBWA agencies in Los Angeles will continue to honor Clow’s impact by partnering with Turnaround Arts: California. Agency leaders and staff will work with its educators on programs to boost the creative skills of students and teachers, which includes hosting workshops on creative problem solving, graphic design, and coding.
Clow is a member of the One Club Hall of Fame, the Art Directors Club 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, and by Cannes Lions with the Lion of St. Mark. He was also included in the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame and the American Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame.
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