Clow Salutes The Ad World’s ‘Crazy Ones’

“Here’s to the crazy ones,” Lee Clow told a room of nearly 300 Clio delegates and TBWA colleagues celebrating his Clio Lifetime Achievement Award in Miami last week. The 60-year-old art director accepted the honor with a poignant talk looking back over his storied advertising career and saluting the people behind the advertising with the words from his “Think different” campaign for Apple.

“It’s the human beings that love what we do that is my message to you after all these years that I’ve spent in this business,” he said. “We’re wonderful, beautiful, passionate, amazing, crazy people who love this stupid thing called advertising, and we do it with all our heart.”

The chairman and chief creative officer of TBWA Worldwide also paid tribute to the next generation of creatives, comparing Crispin Porter + Bogusky to Chiat/ Day in its early days. “I remember when Chiat/Day was trying to change the world,” said Clow, adding that he was “envious” of CP+B because “that’s the kind of agency that is going to change the industry in the future, that’s going to invent new ways of being in this business, ways to make us proud and speak to the intelligence of what we do.”

Clow acknowledged the media challenges facing agencies today but said that however advertising evolves, “it’s still going to be words and pictures.” He urged creatives to connect brands to people “in likable, nonintrusive, ‘Hey, they’re smart; Hey, they’re funny; I don’t hate those people’ kinds of ways.” While ads intrude rudely on people’s lives “if they are ugly and stupid and embarrassing,” he said an ad that “makes you laugh, makes you feel something can be the kind of art that is good and positive.”

Looking back at his own storied career, Clow said he’s particularly proud that of all the work he’s created, “I don’t think anything looks the same.” A video tribute, produced at TBWA\C\D in Playa del Rey, Calif., showed his most famous campaigns, for brands including Apple, Nike, Porsche, Pizza Hut, Nissan, Taco Bell and, most recently, Adidas.

The irony of the shop’s lauded 1984 introduction of the Macintosh, Clow noted, is that all the tools used to create those ads are now extinct. “Everything we did to introduce Macintosh is gone because of Macintosh,” he said, saying he felt “lucky” to have introduced both a new way of working, with the personal computer, and a new way of listening to music, with current campaigns for Apple’s iTunes and iPod.

His evolution from art director to chief creative officer was similar to a solo performer’s becoming a conductor of an orchestra, said Clow, dressed in California-casual jeans and a blazer. “To work with people and find special ideas that every once in a while changes the world or changes the way we think about the world—and at the same time be able to make a living at it—is a pretty unique opportunity,” he said.

Longtime colleague Mark Fenske introduced Clow, summing up his contribution to advertising by saying that if an alien landed on earth and asked what advertising is, “We would take Lee Clow, and we would give him over to them. And that would explain it all.” Fenske, now a professor at VCU Adcenter, also starred in the video, telling the story of Clow—a lifelong surfer—in the guise of a wild-haired California beach bum.

Of Clow’s comments, TBWA president of the Americas Tom Carroll said, “He incredibly, genuinely loves the business—he has unrelenting enthusiasm. He’s as proud of the work he did 20 years ago as the work he did last week.”

Although the Clio was awarded for his life’s work, Clow offered a reminder a few days before the ceremony. “I’m not finished yet,” he said. “Just because I’m getting a lifetime achievement award doesn’t mean I’m dead.”