Pioneer of the 60’s Creative Revolution, George Lois is truly an advertising Legend. He not only shaped the industry with his renowned ideologies such as ‘The Big Idea’ but changed popular culture with his acclaimed campaigns and iconic magazine covers for Esquire. Now he share’s a thing or two with us about the industry…
As a design student before the arrival of the 60’s creative revolution what or who were your inspirations to get into the world of advertising?
Since I was a youngster in public school, I lived to draw, design, rearrange things. I knew I was going to be an artist. What kind,I didn't know. But I was going to be an artist. When I went to a specialized high school (the great High School of Music & Art) I could draw better, design better, sculpt better, paint better, do better in history of art courses that anyone in school. But my special fascination was with that art that was expected to sell.
Like no other art I was studying, it required a cause-effect connection or it simply couldn't work. In high school I worshipped the paintings of Stuart Davis, but the spontaneity of a Cassandre poster seemed even more thrilling by his merging of words and images into a wholly new language.
There more more hints of this new way of communicating in the work of Paul Rand, who struck out boldly during the forties by visualizing in an individualistic manner. At age 14, I started to get more of a kick out of listening to Cassandre and Rand talk to me than Picasso or Leger or Zuburan or O'Keeffee or Stuart Davis.
I knew I was hooked.
From the man that created the 2nd creative agency in the world, what is your view on the level of creativity in the industry today?
We live in a timid age when students and young professionals are taught to believe that a commercial or an ad should not be seen or experienced as a commercial or an ad! But a great commercial or print advertisement must say, in your face, that this is a commercial message and that your asking for the sale – not by pounding your head with a hammer, but charming – and convincing the consumer to buy!
That passionate art of salesmanship seems to be lost forever.
Most creatives have a bitter tail about an idea that has been turned down, twisted or watered down into nothing… Could you share with us how your famous approach to selling ideas convinced doubting peers?
At Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1959, when I was a young, blooming art director, I totally understood that even a brilliant idea won't sell itself. In my first week there, I created a Passover subway poster for Goodman’s Matzos. My headline was in Hebrew with two universally understood words (at least in New York), Kosher for Passover, and under it, a gigantic matzo. When the account man came back with a resounding no from the client, I went to my boss, Bill Bernbach, and insisted he make an appointment with Goodman’s honcho, an Old Testament, bushy-eyebrowed tyrant, a master kvetch. The matzos maven yawned as I opened with a passionate pitch. When I unfurled my poster, he muttered, “I dun like it.” I disregarded him and pressed forwards, selling my guts out. The tyrant tapped the desk for silence as one, then two, then three of his staff registered support for the powerful Hebrew headline. “No, no,” he said, “I dun like it!” I had to make a final move–so I walked up to an open casement window. As I began to climb through the window, he shouted after me, “You going someplace?” He and his staff gasped at me as if I was some kind of meshuggener, poised on the outer ledge three floors above the pavement. I gripped the vertical window support with my left hand, waved the poster with my free hand, and screamed from the ledge at the top of my lungs, “You make the matzo, I’ll make the ads!” “Stop, stop,” said the old man, frantically. “Ve’ll run it.”I climbed back into the room and thanked the patriarch for the nice way he received my work. As I was leaving, he shouted after me, “Young man, if you ever qvit advertising, you got yourself ah job as ah matzos salesman!”
If all else fails, threaten to commit suicide!
Now your campaigns literally sit in the advertising hall of fame. While working on a project did you ever have times of doubt or fear that your idea wouldn’t work?
I have never been cocky, but when I know I've created the Big Idea I am looking for, I'm always cocksure. The courage to create innovative work must be accomplished with a supreme confidence in the power of your idea. Any doubt, any fear that your idea "won't work," any analysis paralysis turns you into a cautious creative. You can be cautious or you can be creative, but there's no such thing as a cautious creative.
“It’s already been done!” with so many brands and decades of campaigns in existence, how can creatives ensure their work today is original?
The Big Idea in advertising sears the virtues of a product into a viewer’s brain and heart, resulting in a sales explosion! To be a master communicator, words and images must catch people’s eyes, penetrate their minds, warm their hearts, and cause them to act! Read just one of my books (or go to my website) and there are hundreds of examples of my ad campaigns that proves what I’ve always insisted: great advertising, in and of itself, becomes a benefit of the product. Always, always, go for the Big Idea.
Do you believe the most creative work comes from a team or an individual?
The accepted system for the creation of innovative thinking in a democratic environment is to work in a team-like ambiance. Don't believe it. If you're an art director or a copywriter, when you're confronted with the challenge of coming up with the Big Idea, always work with the most talented, innovative mind available. Hopefully...that's you! Everybody believes in co-creativity – not me. Be confident of your own, edgy, solo talent.
Your Esquire covers are some of the most iconic magazine covers ever created, challenging and changing perceptions, attitudes and culture. Do you agree that this was your most important work?
My work of irreverent, unpredictable but astonishingly effective advertising, established me as the catalyst of the legendary Advertising Creative Revolution of the 1960s – which, in my mind, is probably my crowning achievement. Read these words written by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair about my Esquire covers:
"In the advertising world, Lois can spot traces of his influence among 'a lot of guys that came after me that I inspired...' but when he visits a newsstand, however, he feels that his legacy was written in vanishing ink. Although the audacious covers he designed for Esquire in the '60s and early '70s are lauded as one of the marathon achievements in magazine history, these testimonials are nothing but talk – magazines today have never played it safer. Circulation soared during the Lois years, and dove when he left, yet none have picked up his baton."
What is the most common mistake you see in Advertising?
Most ad agency biggies believe people are dumb. Their recurring complaint is that people are stupid. But I think people are absolutely brilliant about advertising. They "get" Big Ideas. Moreover, they always respond to an idea – a strong, central concept or image – especially if it is represented in a warm, human way. If you don't believe what I say, you'll spend a lifetime doing dumb work.
With over 5 decades in the industry, what do your days consist of now?
After I retired in the year 2000, my wife Rosie now says I'm "not retired, just tired."
My son Luke and I work on projects daily, branding, creating ad campaigns, producing books, etc. I still live a thrillingly happy marriage of 62 years (we play chess almost everyday, which is about the only time she gets angry with me).
Do you have a last bit of advice for creatives entering the ad world now?
1. Now that you've identified your bliss, the greater your chance of a truly happy life.
2. When you get a job doing what you were born to do, be thrilled that you're doing work that you love (and getting a paycheck for it).
3. Reject group grope, reject analysis paralysis
4. Remember that a cautious creative is an oxymoron.
What an incredible and inspiring creative, find out more about George, his work and contribution to the industry and culture at www.georgelois.com
Published by: admin in The Score