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Lee Clow, Chairman, TBWA\Media Arts Lab, calls it a day

In October 2018, at a party on Jay Chiat’s birthday, part of the year-long ‘Chiat\Day 50’ celebration, Clow had already announced his retirement to the agency, alumni and close friends

Lee Clow

Lee Clow, Global Director of Media Arts, TBWA and Chairman and Founder of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, formally shared his decision to retire with the industry on Valentine’s Day, which was a nod to Jay Chiat’s unconventional custom of sending Valentine’s Day cards to staff, colleagues and clients, instead of the expected, ‘Season’s Greetings’, typically dispatched during December holidays.

In October 2018, at a party on Chiat’s birthday, part of the year-long ‘Chiat\Day 50’ celebration, Clow had already announced his retirement to the agency, alumni and close friends.


He will move into an advisory role as Chairman Emeritus of the agency he founded in 2006 to serve Apple and to embody his vision of an agency that impacts culture, rather than just ‘makes ads’.

Some of the brilliant ideas that he came up with include — Think Different (Here’s to the Crazy Ones) for Apple, Dogs Rule for Pedigree, Yo quiero Taco Bell for Taco Bell, the Energiser Bunny that Keeps Going and Going, Impossible Is Nothing for Adidas, and That’s G for Gatorade.


“The years I spent doing this thing called ‘advertising’ have been fun: challenging, rewarding, maddening, sometimes painful, but mostly, joyful. And I wouldn’t trade a day of it.” Clow, an original Chiat\Day partner, mused, in his ‘Love Note to Advertising’, released on February 14, 2019.

Clow continues to work on a personal film project that tells the story behind some of the most famous and culture-altering advertising in history, recalling his 50 years at Chiat\Day — the people, the work and retelling how they did it.

He will also remain involved in the agency’s social-impact group, For Good, based in Los Angeles, where he will advise on select projects for clients who share his commitment to the planet and the people (and animals) who inhabit it. “Don’t do the right thing,” he challenged the agency, the advertising world, and clients, on TBWA\Chiat\Day’s 50th anniversary in 2018. “Do the brave thing. Do the thing that doesn’t just defy the status quo, but reshapes it, forever,” he added.

Clow often credits his artful, freethinking, creative style to his California roots. To celebrate his outstanding contributions to the creative community, and his love for his hometown, the agency has established a scholarship at the College of the Arts — School of Art at Clow’s alma mater, California State University Long Beach (CSULB). Additionally, all proceeds from his film project will go into a college fund previously established in Clow’s and Chiat’s names at Art Center College of Design, which was created to assist low- and middle-income students with tuition fees and costs.

Clow’s career, which started at Chiat\Day in LA, spans five decades. It tells a story of ‘doing the brave thing’, with disruptive campaigns that epitomised ‘California cool’. He took Chiat\Day’s creatively audacious style of advertising global when he helped lead the successful merger with TBWA, crystallising the agency’s reputation as the destination for creative professionals who want to do ground-breaking, iconic work.

“Clow will always be our creative conscience,” said Troy Ruhanen, President and CEO, TBWA\Worldwide. “He has given so much to our company and to our industry. His challenge to us, to do the brave thing, to disrupt, will continue to be our North Star. We all love you, Lee,” he remarked.

“Clow is one of the most talented and visionary leaders in our industry,” said Chairman and CEO of Omnicom Group, 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,” said Wren.

There’s perhaps no better example of Clow’s impact on the industry than his 30-plus-year partnership with Apple from the launch of Macintosh in 1984, to the now-famous ‘Think Different (Here’s to the Crazy Ones)’ campaign that launched the rebirth of Apple in 1997. During the past two decades, he helped orchestrate Apple’s moves, into music with iPod and iTunes with the celebrated ‘Silhouettes’ campaign, into phones with the category-redefining iPhone and then, creating the campaign, ‘Get a Mac (Mac versus PC)’. Then, he helped Apple forge a whole new category with iPad. Most recently, Clow led the creative teams that launched Apple Music into the world, and worked on the introduction of Apple Watch.

The agency will continue to serve Apple around the world, led by Global President of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Katrien De Bauw, and by Global Chief Creative Officer, Brent Anderson, and to set global creative standards.

Clow is a member of the One Club Hall of Fame, the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and the Museum of Modern Art’s Advertising Hall of Fame, and has been honoured by the Clios with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and by Cannes Lions with the Lion of St. Mark. Clow was also inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame and the American Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame.

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