Creative genius Lee Clow retires from TBWA

The ad industry legend is behind some of the most iconic commercials and campaigns of all time.

TBWA\Media Arts Lab’s Lee Clow - arguably one of the most creative minds in advertising history - is retiring from his role.

The Global Director of Media Arts at TBWAnd Founder and Chairman of TBWA\Media Arts Lab will move into the role of chairman emeritus.

Clow, who’s behind the revolutionary "1984" commercial introducing Apple’s Macintosh, Taco Bell’s memorable "Yo quiero Taco Bell" campaign and many more groundbreaking initiatives, launched the agency in 2006 to serve Apple.

"I’ve had a pretty positive career, starting with joining Jay Chiat and Chiat Day at the beginning and staying on one place, which is pretty rare in our business, and working as long as I’ve been able to," Clow told Campaign. "One of my highlights is that Jay Chiat met Steve Jobs at 22 years old and I got be part of his adventure both times at Apple."

TBWA, he added, has always been driven by its passion for ideas and creativity. His hope for TBWA going forward is that it "redefines what a big agency represents to clients" and "re-establishes the power of ideas and disruptive thinking that always has been part of the agency."

While Clow’s legacy includes the likes of the Adidas’ "Impossible is Nothing" campaign,  Pedigree’s "Dogs Rule" campaign, the Energizer Bunny and much more, his work for Apple is perhaps the most noteworthy. In fact, he told Campaign that the "Think Different" initiative is his favorite piece of his own work. The agency also introduced the world to the Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, and Steve Jobs himself one said that "working with Lee has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life."

Clow’s decision to announce his retirement was purposeful on February 14, honoring the fact that Jay Chiat had the rather unusual practice of sending staffers, colleagues and clients Valentine’s Day cards rather than the typical holiday greetings cards.

To keep with the Valentine’s Day theme, Clow also penned a "Love Note to Advertising," which says, "The years I spent doing this thing called advertising have been fun, challenging, rewarding, maddening, sometimes painful, but mostly joyful." To read the letter in full, click here.

Clow, who works with students and helps them put their portfolios together, says his advice for young people in the industry is simple: "Be passionate and observe and listen because you’re going to have find your way into the creative business that advertising is and that all of these new digital tools demand, so stay focused on believing in ideas and creativity."

For the industry at large, Clow believes that "another creative revolution is coming."

When cameras were invented by technologists and scientists hundreds of years ago, he said that artists "didn’t automatically throw away their brushes and paints." However, when a few artists began experimenting with the lenses and capturing images, the beautiful art form of photography was born.

"Artists today haven’t maximized the potential of technology," Clow said. "My wisdom or hope or thought is that if artists keep concentrating on how to make technology a tool rather than technology leading the way and figure out how these new media tools can become a canvas to do amazing, beautiful things, it’s going to be a turning point for what I call special media artists."

In addition to staying involved in a few select social impact projects, Lee said he will continue to work on a personal film project about his time at Chiat/Day and the work and the people throughout his 50 years. "It’s my passion and I think it will become a masterclass in history about advertising and my 50 years in it."

"Lee is one of the most talented and visionary leaders in our industry," said Omnicom Group Chairman and CEO John Wren. "Over the past five decades, he has built a foundation of creative excellence for the TBWA network that has distinguished the agency among its peers. On behalf of the Omnicom family, I would like to thank Lee for his invaluable leadership and significant contributions to our group."

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said in a statement: "During his long partnership with Steve and Apple, Lee told powerful visual stories that elevated new technologies with the passion, creativity and ingenuity that define our own humanity. He helped Apple carry itself through times of challenge, and his work inspired audiences to look beyond the horizon as an exciting future came into view. Lee’s body of work over five decades hums with cleverness, warmth and enthusiasm—and there is no doubt that it will inspire and motivate generations of ‘Crazy Ones’ still to come."

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