Paul Simons: Lee Clow taught me ‘less is more’ at TBWA

Lee Clow has decided to hang up his boots after a very long and distinguished career. I met him at the TBWA/Chiat Day building in LA, out of town on the airport road.

We had only recently completed the merger with TBWA and we were at a global agency principals conference in Marina del Ray, just below Venice Beach on the coast.

When the conference was over, a few of us were invited down to the agency building where we met various senior people and had a walk around. We bumped in to Lee Clow and he invited us in to his rather splendid office for a chat. He was very knowledgeable and interested in the Simons Palmer story, and in particular the creative work, of course.

This was not long after Steve Jobs — someone Lee had a long-standing relationship with — had returned to Apple. He explained they had recently pitched and were successful in retrieving the Apple account. I’m sure most readers will know Lee Clow, at Chiat Day, created the famous 1984 spot for Apple.

He produced the pitch, talking through the approach. It rates as one of those moments in a long career in advertising I will always recall as a light bulb moment. The preamble to the creative proposals were on two boards, a logical flow of an argument that basically said ‘Apple needs to get its mojo back’ and a significant tool in that challenge is outstanding advertising.

No more charts or facts or focus groups or vox pops, just two boards summarising an argument that set up the creative proposals.

The idea was ‘Think Different’. Immediately I felt a shiver of excitement as I could imagine the potential executions of the thought. He then revealed a series of billboards featuring people who have provoked change in the world via creative imagination. The TV ideas were equally powerful.

This campaign ran during 1997 and 1998, effectively establishing Steve Job’s return and his manifesto for the Apple brand (bearing in mind the company was in the doldrums after years of uninspiring management); numerous business commentators in respected publications such as Forbes credited the advertising as the catalyst for a return to prominence of the Apple brand.

In London we had the good fortune to adapt and place the ‘Think Different’ campaign, leaving all of the origination to LA.

The experience stayed with me and helped to sustain the confidence in believing ‘less is more’ when presenting, in particular when presenting to the boss of a client company, normally because their attention span is short.

Without doubt that time in Lee Clow’s office had a strong and positive influence on me.

It is remarkable all of this was just 20 years ago when one considers where the Apple brand is today.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.