Lee Clow Picks Some of His Own Lesser-Known Favorites From the Past 50 Years

By Patrick Coffee 

In case you guys haven’t heard, Lee Clow announced his retirement yesterday with a love letter to the TBWA organization and this thing we call advertising.

To celebrate the five decades he spent in the business, there have been plenty of timelines and reflections and greatest hits collections focusing on his famous work for Apple and Taco Bell.

We had a slightly different idea: what about the ads that didn’t get quite as much ink as “1984” or “Keeps Going and Going” or “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” but were still great in their own right?


On that note, we reached out to TBWA and let Clow pick some of his own favorites.

First, let’s go back more than 30 years to 1987, a sightly less contentious time in this nation’s history. Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviet Union was still a major threat, and California Cooler—which was the original wine cooler, according to the experts at Vice—wanted to match Hal Riney’s work for rival E & J Gallo Winery’s Bartles & Jaymes brand. So they hired Chiat/Day San Francisco.

Clow’s team responded with a series of eight spots mythologizing the California surf mentality that he embodies so well. Here’s one ad and the corresponding Bartles & Jaymes work.

Hard to pick a favorite there, because those two American Gothic guys are so endearing.

Next comes a 1985 ad for Pizza Hut, which counted Chiat as AOR about 16 reviews ago. It’s a tie-in with Strange Brew, the movie that finally convinced us hosers a mouse can fit into a beer bottle.

Now here’s one from 1985 that’s a little more existential than your average car spot. Would you be a Porsche? Of course you would.

Much like the famous Ridley Scott Apple ad, this epic early-’90s :90 for Nissan was not a big hit with the client suits. But they took the risk and ran it anyway. We have to say, the CGI is kind of amazing for its time.

We skip ahead 10 years for the next entry, Levi’s “Crazy Legs,” which was notable both for its depiction of Los Angeles Latino culture and the split personality protagonist (namely, a man and his dancing limbs). Spike Jonze directed the spot, which aired during Super Bowl XXXVI.

Clow got lightly political in some of his latter-day work as well. Take, for example, this amazing one for Absolut. Would you, as a viewer, have any idea this chaotic scene was all about vodka until the final tagline reveal?

The creative leader’s environmental interests also started to factor into his portfolio. In 2014, Conservation International launched the “Nature Is Speaking” campaign, with a series of celebrities voicing different aspects of the natural world. Here’s Julia Roberts as Mother Nature.

“How you choose to live each day, whether you regard or disregard me, doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other. Your actions will determine your fate, not mine.”

Quite a prescient line.

Harrison Ford’s turn as the ocean also won gold at Cannes that year.

Of course, as Clow emphasized in his Adweek Q&A, creative isn’t all about TV—or even video. He also shared several of his favorite print pieces.

See, he’s a dog guy too.

Finally, this 2009 work for Gatorade came after the brand simplified its logo to the simple lightning bolt G. It aimed to capture the intensity of competition that defines pro sports. You know, The G Moments.

Lots of people have shared their thoughts about Lee Clow since he told the TBWA team about his plans to retire back in October. And it’s impossible not to look at this range of campaigns and think that anyone in the business wouldn’t be proud to call it their own.

At risk of getting sentimental about a person we’ve never actually met, we have to say great work, Lee.