Advertising Week

According to Lee Clow, '1984' wasn't quite as ballsy as you thought

By Published on .

Lee Clow took the stage at Advertising Week Thursday morning to commemorate Chiat/Day's half-century anniversary this year and the legendary creative revealed interesting tidbits about his campaigns, his fellow creatives and the ad that got away.

Clow, who is now chairman at TBWA/Media Arts Lab and director of Media Arts at TBWA/Worldwide, was queried by Clio Awards editor-in-chief Tim Nudd, who has recorded a podcast with Clow called "I'm Only Going to Say This Once."

Here are five things we learned from Clow's session.

There's a reason why '1984' only ran once during the Super Bowl -- and it's not what you think

Clow says over time there has been some misinterpretation about the famed Apple commercial. "[Apple founder] Steve Jobs wanted a daring commercial to introduce this computer that he believed was going to change the world, which it did in a lot of ways," Clow said. So the agency came up with the theatrical video that portrayed an Orwellian runner hurling a sledgehammer at Big Brother.

"We showed it at a big Apple sales meeting and everybody stood up and cheered and loved it," he recalled. "But the part of the story that goes a little sideways is it was going to run on the Super Bowl actually a couple of times. And it was going to run some more after the Super Bowl. But what happened [is that Apple's board of directors] took a look at the spot and said, 'How much are we spending on this spot? And there's no product in it. Should we fire the agency?'

"The board of directors didn't think it was genius at all and they forced us to sell all the media time, except Steve wouldn't sell one 60-second slot. So it ran one time on the Super Bowl and to this day, people think, 'Those guys were so ballsy, that was so genius to just run it once and never run it again.' We would have run it a bunch more times if we could have. So that's kind of the real story."

He's had some really bad advice

Before the session, Nudd had polled creatives on what they wanted to ask Clow, and he put their pre-selected questions to him onstage. One was from CP&B co-founder Alex Bogusky, who asked Clow the worst piece of career advice he received.

"All during my years at Chiat/Day, people were saying 'Open your own agency, your name should be on the door,' " Clow responded. "People were forever trying to tell me [that] to advance I had to do something on my own," he said. "I never believed that. I'm glad I didn't take that advice."

He may or may not have had a nickname for Gerry Graf

Barton F. Graf founder Gerry Graf had a two-parter: He asked it was true that Clow had nicknamed Graf "the petulant child" while he worked with him (Graf worked at TBWA/Chiat/Day from 2004-2008) and whether Clow wanted Graf to share his own names for his old boss.

"I don't remember calling him 'the petulant child,'" Clow said. "I had maybe some other names. Gerry is one of the most amazing characters that resides in our business. I'd really like to know the names he called me." Then, to Gerry, he said: "Text me the names you called me and I'll put them on Twitter."

He regrets a campaign that never ran

Asked what ad Clow wished he made, he instead spoke about the one he did create that never ran.

"When we were going into the 2014 World Cup I tried to up the ante ... I felt it was a perfect time for them to restage the brand in a whole lot of ways," Clow said. "I thought it was one of the best things we ever did," he says. "And it ended up never really materializing … they did a few of those things, but not the whole thing. I'm always frustrated — cause I'm a big believer that everything a brand does now is advertising. There has to be a consistency across everything you do and this ended up being a little too piecemeal and we lost, I think, a big moment in time and a big opportunity."

He says brands should look into their soul

"It's a tricky thing," Clow said, asked whether brands should get involved in politics. "Advertising is already a bit suspect. If people think they're just trying to grab onto that political gesture or that cause or that public sentiment on behalf of just selling more stuff, if it looks insincere. … People can get pretty cynical pretty fast if every brand out there jumps on some political position."

He said that in the current polarized political climate, brands have to consider whether they're willing to be hated for something even if some people will love them for it.

"You only do it if it's truly in your soul as a brand that you think you need to say this," he said. "Not as some kind of advertising stunt."

Most Popular