Lee Clow, the creative genius behind some of the most iconic Apple commercials and campaigns of all time, has announced his retirement today. He is 76 years old.
“I’ve had a pretty positive career, starting with joining Jay Chiat and Chiat Day at the beginning and staying on one place, which is pretty rare in our business, and working as long as I’ve been able to,” Clow told Campaign.
He was a personal friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
“One of my highlights is that Jay Chiat met Steve Jobs at 22 years old and I got be part of his adventure both times at Apple,” he said.
Tim Cook commented on Lee’s life and career in the press release:
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.
He helped Apple carry itself through times of challenge and his work inspired audiences to look beyond the horizon as an exciting future came into view. Lee’s body of work over five decades hums with cleverness, warmth and enthusiasm—and there is no doubt that it will inspire and motivate generations of ‘Crazy Ones’ still to come.
Here’s the legendary Ridley Scott-directed “1984” commercial.
He was the chairman and global director of TBWA\Worldwide, Steve Jobs’s favorite ad agency, and had been its chief creative officer for many years. He resigned from his position as chief creative officer at TBWA/Media Arts Lab in October of 2009 at age 66.
Lee mused in his “Love Note to Advertising” released today:
From: Lee, with Love.
Jay Chiat liked sending valentines to the agency.
I’ve never sent one.
But I though it would be a great way to end the celebration of Chiat/Day’s 50 years and my journey with the company.
On Jay’s birthday in October, at a party celebrating 50 years of Chiat/Day, I told everyone that I was officially retiring.
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 for anything else.
Every day to come to ‘work’ with the smarter, freest, most passionate people in business’ all of us with the goal of creating messages to put out into the world that will be noticed, that people will talk about, even become famous.
They make people laugh or cry or think. Discover something new, see the world differently, maybe even buy something.
To be Media Artists.
And remembering the people. The funny ones. The crazy ones. The smartest ones. The non-smartest ones.
The partners. The clients. The mentors. How we challenged each other. Inspired each other. Making each other better.
So this is a love letter to ‘advertising.’
This crazy business that gave me everything. Friendship, price, accomplishment and love.
And to al the people I’ve known over the last 50 years, and to every one of you who will continue,
Happy Valentine’s Day.
He’ll move into an advisory role as the agency’s Chairman Emeritus.
Media Arts Labs, operating under the TBWA network, was founded back in 2006 to serve Apple and embody Clow’s vision of an ad agency which makes culture rather than just commercials.
You’ll recall Lee’s memorable silhouette iPod advertisements.
Other memorable campaigns that Lee helped bring to life include the Energizer Bunny, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, Adidas’ “Impossible is Nothing” campaign and Pedigree’s “Dogs Rule” campaign, but his work for Apple remains the most noteworthy (Apple’s “Think Different” initiative is Lee’s favorite piece of his own work).
Here’s “Think Different”, as narrated by Steve Jobs.
Advertising Age referred to him as “advertising’s art director guru”.
Lee Clow emerged during the last quarter-century as successor to Doyle Dane Bernbach’s Bob Gage as advertising’s art director guru. With his low-key, casual manner belying his hard-work ethic, the bearded adman-in-flip-flops’ leadership style has brought TBWA/Chiat/Day virtually every national and international award and honor, including Ad Age‘s Agency of the Decade (for the 1980s).
The TBWA/Chiat/Day reel includes ‘1984’ for the Apple Macintosh (the commercial that turned the NFL’s Super Bowl Sunday into an Advertising Super Bowl) and Apple’s comeback ‘Think different’ campaign work, plus efforts for Nissan autos, Eveready batteries’ ‘Energizer Bunny’ series and Taco Bell. Like the Bunny, Clow’s stellar work keeps on going and going.
He told Campaign that he believed another creative revolution was coming and that technology will play an important role in it:
Artists today haven’t maximized the potential of technology. My wisdom or hope or thought is that if artists keep concentrating on how to make technology a tool rather than technology leading the way and figure out how these new media tools can become a canvas to do amazing, beautiful things, it’s going to be a turning point for what I call special media artists.
He was also behind the iconic Mac vs. PC ads featuring actors John Hodgman as a PC and Justin Long as the Mac character.
Clow was born in 1943 in Los Angeles, California. He studied at Santa Monica City College and California State University, Long Beach.
TBWA\Media Arts Lab still counts Apple as its client managed by account executives Katrien De Bauw and Brent Anderson.