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

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.

The Taco Bell Chihuahua, and its “Yo quiero Taco Bell” slogan, are introduced to the world.

Clow is inducted into the One Club Hall of Fame

TBWA\Chiat\Day is named Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year for the second time.

1999

Clow promoted to chairman of TBWA Worldwide.

2000

Reportedly under pressure from TBWA execs to develop a succession plan, Clow announces he will hand off much of his creative leadership role with TBWA\Chiat\Day to Chuck McBride, who at the time was working in the San Francisco office after being hired away from Wieden + Kennedy.  McBride would go on to lead creative for the agency’s North American offices until leaving in 2006 to found agency Cutwater.

2003

Apple introduces the iPod Silhouettes, one of advertising’s most iconic campaigns and a key component of the device’s rise to dominance in the MP3 player category.

2004

Clow receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Clios.

The adidas “Impossible is Nothing” campaign is launched.

TBWA\Chiat\Day named Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year for the third time.

2006

Clow launches TBWA\Media Arts Lab, a dedicated Apple creative agency.

Apple debuts the Get a Mac campaign, starring John Hodgman as a PC and Justin Long as a Mac. It would run for three years and encompass 66 ads.

2007

Apple’s debuts its first iPhone ad, “Hello.”

2009

Gatorade “Replay” wins two Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions and is credited with initiating the festival’s Branded Entertainment category.

Clow steps down as chief creative officer of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, handing the title to Duncan Milner, a longtime creative leader on the Apple account.

2010

Adweek declares Get a Mac the Campaign of the Decade.

2013

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity awards Clow the Lion of St. Mark, the festival’s lifetime achievement award.

2015

Clow is inducted into Advertising Hall of Fame

2018

Clow is inducted into American Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame

2019

Clow officially retires as chairman of TBWA\Media Arts Lab and director of media arts for TBWA Worldwide.

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