Timeline: Lee Clow’s 50 Years in Advertising

As TBWA's creative legend retires, he leaves a legacy unlike any other

black and white photo of Lee Clow sitting on a couch
Lee Clow joined Chiat/Day in 1973 as a young art director and remained with the agency more than 45 years. Courtesy of Lee Clow
Headshot of David Griner

1943

Lee Clow is born in Los Angeles, where he would later attend Santa Monica City College and California State University at Long Beach.

1968

Jay Chiat and Guy Day form creative agency Chiat/Day in Los Angeles through the merger of Jay Chiat & Associates and Faust/Day. The agency had one office, 50 employees and $8 million in billings, according to The New York Times.

Clow, after a tour of duty in the Army, gets hired as an art director at the L.A. office of agency N.W. Ayer (which would eventually dissolve in 2002).

1973

Clow joins Chiat/Day after waging a yearlong “Hire the Hairy” campaign through which he bombarded creative director Hy Yablonka with ads, T-shirts and bumper stickers aimed at getting Clow brought on board.

Chiat/Day L.A. wins the Honda car account, the agency’s first major client. The win put the era’s major agencies on notice that Chiat/Day was a rising threat.

1977

Clow is promoted to associate creative director at Chiat/Day.

1979

Chiat/Day opens offices in New York and San Francisco.

1981

Chiat/Day acquires agency Regis McKenna Inc., including its five-year-old relationship with a computer startup called Apple.

1982

Clow is promoted to creative director of the Chiat/Day L.A. office.

1984

Chiat/Day launches the Ridley Scott-directed ad “1984” for Apple during Super Bowl XVIII. (The ad had technically debuted on New Year’s Eve 1983 in a few local markets to ensure it could be entered in award shows during 1984.) Clow was creative director on the spot. The ad famously aired against the wishes of Apple’s board of directors, which felt it was wasteful. But it was championed by Apple founder Steve Jobs, who would go on to be Clow’s friend for decades. Only broadcast nationally once, “1984” set a new bar for advertising creativity and is still considered by many to be the best Super Bowl ad of all time.

Clow is named chief creative officer and senior art director for Chiat/Day.

1985

Jobs leaves Apple amid ongoing conflicts with CEO John Sculley about the brand’s future.

Chiat/Day wins the Porsche and Pizza Hut accounts.

1986

BBDO, DDB and Needham Harper Worldwide come together to launch Omnicom, a U.S.-based holding company aimed at protecting the agencies from the merger-and-acquisition frenzy led by competitors Publicis and Interpublic Group (plus, beginning the next year, WPP).

Apple shifts its advertising from Chiat/Day to BBDO.

1987

Chiat/Day wins the $90 million Nissan Motors account, lifting the agency’s annual billings above $500 million and making it one of the nation’s largest shops.

1988

Chiat/Day opens its first international office, in Toronto

Chiat/Day named Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year.

1989

Energizer’s “Keeps Going and Going” tagline and campaign are introduced, developed by Chiat/Day as an extension of the Energizer Bunny character first created by DDB.

Chiat/Day acquires Australian agency Mojo MDA for a reported $68 million and briefly becomes Chiat/Day/Mojo. An Australian economic downturn, however, would end up making the merger a costly decision for the network and help set it on a path to acquisition.

1990

Chiat/Day continues international expansion with the launch of its London office. In New York, though, a series of client losses forces the agency to lay off dozens from the 150-person office, leading The New York Times to wonder if Chiat/Day was losing its “golden touch.”

1991

Chiat/Day billings hit $1.2 billion thanks to clients like Toshiba, Reebok, American Express, The Boston Company and Microsoft.

1993

Omnicom acquires TBWA, an agency network founded in Paris in 1970.

1995

Facing intense financial pressure, Chiat/Day surprises the industry by announcing it will be acquired by Omnicom and merged with TBWA. Clow and TBWA co-founder Bill Tragos (the T in TBWA) worked together on the transaction to form TBWA\Chiat\Day. Jay Chiat had been skeptical of an acquisition and worried it would dilute Chiat\Day’s creativity, but Clow and other execs urged him to make the move, which would prove to be a positive one.

1997

Steve Jobs returns to Apple as CEO and quickly reconnects with Clow’s creative team. Apple launches its much celebrated Think Different campaign, anchored by the TV spot “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”—which then became the first TV commercial to win an Emmy.


@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: February 14, 2019 https://stage.adweek.com/agencies/timeline-lee-clows-50-years-in-advertising/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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