George Lois passed away on Friday at the age of 91. One of the all-time greats of the ad biz, he created truly memorable work at DDB in the late fifties before becoming one of the founders of Papert Koenig Lois in 1960. It became the first ad agency with an art director as a principal. It was also the first ad agency to go public in 1962, raising a ton of money and starting a trend. By 1967 it was a major agency, with $40 million in billings and clients like Xerox, National Airlines and Procter & Gamble.
The groundbreaking “Xerox Chimpanzee” ad was brilliant, but had to be pulled after a couple of weeks when the secretaries of America complained that it made them look like monkeys! A little-known fact is that Fred Papert only worked mornings. At midday a limo would take him out to “The Big A” as Aqueduct Racetrack was known, in time for the first race at 1.00 PM.
I never actually worked with George but did socialize with him over martinis and while judging various award shows. I used to see him regularly when I worked at Warwick & Legler, which was the main Seagram agency, with the most important member of staff being the constantly on-call cocktail waiter. The agency was located in the Seagram building and had the Four Seasons restaurant on the ground floor.
George would regularly take clients there for lunch, during the meal he would draw layouts on the uber expensive Egyptian Linen tablecloth. After the meal the maître de would fold up the cloth, put it in a tube and have it couriered to the PKL offices.
Besides his ad work, he will always be remembered for the more than 90 Esquire magazine covers he produced. They included Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, depicting the decline of pop art, and Muhammad Ali portrayed as the martyr Saint Sebastian riddled with arrows. They became part of MOMA’s permanent exhibition in 2008.
Another thing George was unabashed about was recycling his work. He did a campaign for Maypo cereal with adults crying like babies whilst wailing… “I want my Maypo.” A year later he did a campaign for MTV with music fans wailing… “I want my MTV.” I think he used it a third time, but I can’t remember what for. Anyway, if it’s got “Legs” why not?
Final words of wisdom from George when asked about the current state of the ad biz… Lois told the magazine Creative Review in 2012. “What happened finally, is these terrible conglomerate, no-talent, so-called marketing monoliths started to buy up agencies, and you have five or six or seven holding companies running the world, and if you’re part of them you’ll never be a creative agency. It just doesn’t work.”
Well said George.