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A Career in Four Lions

Four examples of award-winning creativity from TBWA’s Lee Clow

Taking his first bite out of America’s advertising apple in 1973, Lee Clow continues to chomp down on the industry, winning ad campaigns more than 40 years later.

From Bronze to Silver to Grand Prix, Lee Clow is no stranger to winning a Lion. This makes him a genuine creative guru. Best known for a string of successful Apple campaigns, he also helped orchestrate Apple’s move to music. Remember those silhouette dancers grooving to their shiny new iPods way back in 2004? Thought you did.

His success comes as no surprise, as this Cali born chap has always had a knack for the creative. Taking an interest in art and design from a young age, he received a two-year degree at Santa Monica City College. Like any great artist, Clow quickly became bored of jumping from one post graduate job to another, and instead had his eye on an LA advertising agency called Chiat Day.

In 1973 persistence paid off, as Clow started at the company as Art Director. Back then, the American Division of TBWA only employed about ten people. Being keen to climb up the (albeit short) ladder, Clow secured regular training from Mr Jay Chiat himself, along with a bank of art directing annuals that he lived by at the time.

A natural flare for directing - coupled with expert guidance and a friendship with Steve Jobs for more than 30 years - paved the way for Clow to become Apples go-to guy when it came to commercials. Apple’s Super Bowl in 1984 was, as they say, a corker. Inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’, pale faces hypnotised by the Orwellian telescreen almost scared buyers into believing that Apple’s new technology was a tool for freedom and not control.

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But it wasn’t just Apple campaigns that Clow had a knack for. Also known for Pepsi, the Energizer Bunny and the Adidas Campaign ‘Impossible is Nothing’, Clow was a big name in the industry and soon succeeded the talented art director Robert Gage.

Securing a handful of hard-earned promotions, nearly a decade after starting at Chiat Day, he bagged the Creative Director role in the Los Angeles office in 1982. Shortly after this, he was named Chief Creative officer and then Senior Art Director. 

Believing that if a campaign is good “it will make you feel something”, in 2015 Clow used the world’s selfie obsession to Apple’s advantage to introduce the new iPhone 6. But while his directing style seems to have matured with modernism, the same can’t be said in other departments: Clow still sports a rugged beard and flip-flops. He’s so West Coast.

At 66, Clow stepped down from his position as Chief Creative Officer, and was replaced by Duncan Milner. Now, as Chairman of the TBWA/Media Arts Lab in its tenth year anniversary, Clow got the company logo tattooed on his left arm to celebrate!

In 2013, Clow was awarded the prestigious Lion of St Mark at Cannes Lions. This special award is presented each year to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to creativity in advertising and communications over their lifetime. 

Lee Clow

Clow openly admits that he hasn’t yet made an ad that he is totally happy with. “When I reach that stage in the game I guess I’ll retire and go into the aluminium siding business.” But until then, bring on the tattoos.

Browse more work from TBWA in the Cannes Lions Archive.

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