It seems only appropriate that Chiat/Day was born on the beaches of Los Angeles in 1968. The West Coast was home to a mind-bending social revolution, and against that backdrop, Jay Chiat ushered in advertising's own countercultural revolution. In an industry established in the shadows of Madison Avenue skyscrapers, his upstart shop basked in the California sunshine, awash in creative audacity, youthful swagger and disdain of industry convention.
Chiat was the agency's relentless, driving force for the better part of 25 years, stepping back only after he was forced to sell Chiat/Day. Along the way, he became one of advertising's most influential pioneers—perhaps its last great entrepreneur—who delighted in bringing about provocative change. His richest legacy was C/D's brilliant portfolio, which came out of an agency environment in which creatives were driven to improve on their best work.
In keeping with his paradoxical nature, Chiat was at times blunt, harsh and abrasive—befitting his roots in the Bronx—and also generous and nurturing of talent. For all of his domineering presence at Chiat/ Day, he always sought to achieve the kind of flat hierarchy in which status was determined by talent and intelligence.
Morton Jay Chiat, 70, died last Tuesday at his Marina del Rey, Calif., home from complications related to prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife, Edwina von Gal, and his three children, Marc, Deborah and Elyse.
Chiat recalled a time when advertising was driven more by larger-than-life personalities than by holding-company shareholders. With his year-round bronzed features, impeccable tailoring, ironic sense of humor and sophisticated taste in art and architecture, Chiat lent a worldly pedigree to an increasingly faceless corporate industry.
"In the '80s, when our business was more about mega-mergers than it was about advertising, at a time when it was impossible to tell what the average agency stood for, Chiat/ Day and Jay Chiat stood alone," recalls DDB New York chairman and CEO Bob Kuperman, formerly head of C/D's L.A. flagship.
Chiat's influence took up where Bill Bern bach's legacy left off. Says Kuperman: "If Bill Bernbach started the 'creative revolution' in the '60s, Jay Chiat not only brought it back from near death in the business recession of the '70s, but made it grow and flourish in the '80s and '90s. Far more than [being] leaders who simply understood and supported creativity, both created agencies that threw out all the rules, turned their backs on linear thinking and thumbed their noses at conventional advertising wisdom."
In its first two decades, C/D's growth was breathtaking as Chiat built it into a $1 billion shop. Five of the top 10 ads named "Best of the Decade" by the One Club at the end of the '80s came from C/D.
But Chiat's ambitions and financial miscalculations even tually cost the agency its maverick identity, and it met the same fate as Bernbach's shop, becoming part of Omnicom in 1995.
After the sale, Chiat left advertising and served as chairman of Internet content provider Screaming Media. He also sought ways to bring more minorities into advertising, and gave $1 million to his alma mater, Rutgers Univer sity, for scholarships to Latino and African American students.
Chiat never regretted his penchant for risk taking, despite the failure of his gamble on expansion. "I'm uncomfortable when I'm comfortable," he once said. "I have to start something new—in the agency or in my personal life—every two years or so. Taking risks gives me energy. I can't help it, it's my personality."
The pursuit of creative excellence went far beyond C/D's own corridors. "It's difficult to overstate his contribution to the entire advertising industry: He made creative an imperative, not an option," says M.T. Rainey, part of the C/D team that introduced the Macintosh and now CEO of Rainey, Kelly, Campbell, Roalfe, Young & Rubicam. "He was ahead of his time in creating new kinds of operating structures and ways of thinking."
Perfectionism informed Chiat's entire career. "Jay had a certain div ine discontent. He thought all human works are, by their nature, flawed," says Steve Hayden, the copywriter of "1984" and now vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather. "Jay was al ways seeking transcendence. Having a good or even successful campaign gave him no pleasure. The only pleas ure he ever had was in shaking the foundations of the world."