Lam Remembered for Outdoor at DDB

LOS ANGELES Advertising veteran Simon “Si” Lam died June 17 after a lingering illness that ended in heart failure. He was 80 years old and living in Santa Monica, Calif., near the agency at which he worked for more than three decades.

According to Lam’s son, Perrin, a copywriter, Lam’s legacy at Doyle Dane Bernbach in Los Angeles, where Lam worked from the early 1950s to 1976, was “in taking outdoor to another level of intelligence and sophistication. He turned what were merely signs into messages, and messages into highly intelligent messages.”

Bob Matsumoto, a creative director who worked with Lam in the early ’70s, said that Lam’s “personality came out in the work: It was straightforward, humorous, bold and memorable, just like Si.”

Volkswagen and American Airlines, as well as Bekins Moving and Storage, First Western Bank, General Telephone, Hill’s Brothers Coffee, The Gas Company and Terminix (in which the billboard appeared to be eaten away) were among Lam’s most memorable campaigns during years in which he was often partnered as an art director with copywriter Ed Bigelow.

The VW campaign included “Small Wonder,” “Relieves Gas Pain” and “It Won’t Drive You to the Poor House” headlines. Lam’s “Mass Transit” ad, in which nuns line up to board a VW van, is particularly iconic, Perrin Lam said.

“We did all the billboards for [DDB] New York, because in those days New York didn’t have a clue about outdoor,” said Charline Elfeldt, a 30-year veteran of DDB’s paste-up and traffic departments. “Volkswagen and American Airlines were particularly famous. American Airlines featured people who looked like real people, and in fact a lot of people from our agency were in the ads.”

“In the ’60s, we were the hottest shop in town, and we were doing great creative,” said Elfeldt. “Si was respected as a creative, and it was really a communal effort.”

Perrin Lam recalled that his father sent a portfolio to DDB after two stints at small agencies, each lasting only a week. “Having been told politely, ‘No, but stay in touch,’ he called [former DDB art director] Bob Gage every Friday for 23 weeks in a row until they finally hired him.”