For Adweek’s 40th Anniversary, Lee Clow Looks Back on How Advertising Has Grown Up

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  • For Adweek’s 40th Anniversary, Lee Clow Looks Back on How Advertising Has Grown Up

Thank you, Mr. Bernbach.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, a creative revolution was going on in New York. Agency Doyle Dane Bernbach was dramatically changing the advertising business forever.

The revolution was being led by Bill Bernbach, Roy Grace, Helmut Krone, George Lois, Phyllis Robinson, Mary Wells and agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves. They were doing advertising that was smart, funny, impactful and likable.

They changed the advertising business from Ivy League good ol’ boys on Madison Avenue to a club where, if you were smart, creative and had a passion for new ideas, anyone—Jews, Italians, Greeks, women, men—could join. Proving that if you’re good and have enough desire, you can be somebody in this business.

Even if you’re in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle. Or even Los Angeles.

Jay Chiat and Guy Day wanted to do that kind of advertising, only from California. We thought of ourselves as an agency with the responsibility to migrate Bill Bernbach’s creative revolution to the West Coast.

In the early ’70s, before Adweek, there was a magazine in Los Angeles called Media Agencies Clients, or MAC. (The computer wasn’t invented yet.)

That ‘60s creative revolution gave rise to the West Coast’s freestyle: its irreverence, its imagination, its industry-challenging innovation.

In 1971-1977, the front cover of MAC magazine was a stage for some of ChiatDay’s early advertising bravado. MAC agreed to sell us one-third of its front cover, allowing us to tout ChiatDay’s unconventional thoughts on advertising and our irreverent agency philosophy. Fun stuff, like the ad that featured the results of the coin flip that decided whether Guy or Jay would be president of the agency that year.

By 1978 MAC, along with two other regional publications, Serving Advertising in the Midwest, or SAM, and Advertising News of New York, or ANNY, became Adweek.

Adweek celebrated agencies for their interesting, brave advertising ideas. The new editors, Pen Tudor and Clay Felker, declared its editorial focus would be more on creativity and less on industry gossip. A good idea.

The migration had begun. The West Coast started challenging Madison Avenue on how advertising was done, how advertising looked and where it came from.

Jay Chiat brought planning to America. “What does the customer want to hear?” was replaced by “What is the honest idea that will persuade consumers that you have a better mousetrap?” Frank Gehry and Clive Wilkinson changed the way advertising agencies looked outside and how we worked inside.

In New York, agencies lived in tall buildings. Everyone had an office. Even the little people had little offices. Big important people had big, impressive offices. Creatives had separate offices, and sometimes, even talked to each other.

We were building agencies that were more egalitarian. Open, with no doors. In warehouses so the boss was on the same floor, not five floors up, and people could collaborate at watercoolers, coffee machines or on the basketball court.

I’d like to take credit for replacing the three-piece suit with shorts and sandals. Creatives stopped wearing ties, so the account people said, “If he doesn’t have to wear a tie, I’m not wearing a tie.”

Then there’s the work.

In San Francisco, legendary storyteller Hal Riney showed us all how to give a soul to a brand, like Perrier’s “Everything happened just right” and Crocker Bank’s “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Hal invented a few brands. For Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co., he gave us Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, and for Ernest and Julio Gallo, he invented Bartles and Jaymes. It was the beginning of the wine cooler wars.

Hal inspired Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein and Andy Berlin to open their agency’s doors. As Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, they gave us the unforgettable reminder that if you’re going to have a fudge brownie, you better make sure you “Got Milk?” And who could forget the Budweiser Frogs’ “ribbit”?

This story first appeared in the Dec. 9, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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