Lee Clow’s Passionate ‘Tangent’

Be authentic and make elegant ads, he tells 4A's crowd

Lee Clow came to reminisce about Chiat\Day's legendary "1984" ad for Apple, but wound up using his appearance today at the 4A's Transformation Conference to speak passionately about the transformative power of brands. 

It was a memorable moment punctuated by a wave of applause. Clow's impromptu soliloquy—or "little tangent," as he called it—also reminded attendees why, despite all the hassles and pressures of modern day advertising, they still love this business. 

Repeatedly during his 30-minute appearance with "1984" copywriter Steve Hayden, Clow referred to his friend and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Jobs' mission, even before the ad with drones and the hammer thrower redefined Super Bowl advertising, was to democratize technology, Clow noted. So, the notion of putting technology in the hands of the masses informed not only the launch of Macintosh but also the subsequent births of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

As Clow explained, Jobs was "looking for every way that people could touch and access and use information and [have] it not be the sole province of the privileged and the rich corporations."

Then, about five minutes before the end of the nostalgic talk, Clow began his tangent, which he presented as an antidote to worrying about how to use social media. He spoke matter-of-factly at first and then more emotionally and louder with each successive point.

"The company that most of your business magazines would say is the role model for everything from inventiveness to marketing genius loved television commercials, loved billboards, loved print ads, loved a store filled with beautiful graphics," said Clow, whose use of the past tense seemed to refer to Jobs. "Steve Jobs was passionate about all the traditional media that people are now thinking is being eclipsed by all this other media.

"I would submit that there are probably as much or more social media conversations about Apple than any brand would ever want. But they were created not by advertising people and marketing people trying to create social media conversations. [Apple] did brilliant things, and they were a genius, wonderful, loveable company that lots of people decided they wanted" to connect with and talk about.

You can't manufacture that kind of passion, Clow argued. So, you might as well be authentic because "the audience is now really smart. And they're going to figure out what brands they want to spend time with, what brands they want to share with their friends, what brands [for which] they want to go see that spot they just did on YouTube or that film that they just posted or that trailer.

"People are going to figure out how to use this media and the idea that we are going to manipulate them into using it the way we want them to do, I think is bullshit," Clow said, triggering the spontaneous applause.

Amid the wave of claps, Clow completed his thought, stopping just for a moment, so as to not be drowned out.

"So, be a great brand and do beautiful, elegant advertising—and all this stuff will come."

Amen, Lee, amen.