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Apple advertising legend Lee Clow, one of the last larger-than-life creative titans, is retiring

Yo quiero more ad creatives like Lee Clow: The TBWA head behind Apple’s “Think Different,” Taco Bell’s chihuahua, the Energizer bunny, and many more pop-culture moments is hanging it up.

Apple advertising legend Lee Clow, one of the last larger-than-life creative titans, is retiring

The man behind some of the most recognizable advertising campaigns of the last 35 years is finally retiring. Lee Clow, TBWA global director of media arts, and chairman and founder of Apple’s global bespoke creative agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab, announced today that he’s stepping down from his roles.

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He’s still not leaving the building completely, moving into an advisory role as chairman emeritus of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, and he’ll stay involved in select social impact projects as well as work on a personal film project.

Clow worked alongside Steve Jobs to establish Apple’s iconic “Think Different” campaign after Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, as well as what many consider the original blockbuster Super Bowl ad, “1984,” during Jobs’ original stint at the company he cofounded.

Beyond Apple, the 73-year-old ad veteran also led the creation of the Energizer bunny, Taco Bell’s chihuahua, and Adidas’ long-running “Impossible is Nothing” campaign.

He began his career as an art director at Los Angeles agency Chiat/Day (which would later become TBWA/Chiat/Day), and Clow’s distinctly West Coast vibe and style was never cut from the Don Draper Madison Avenue cloth. He was more about catching waves than martini lunches.

But long before the mandate in advertising was creating work that could become part of popular culture, Clow was a forerunner in doing just that. While his legacy touches a number of giant brands, he’ll always be best known for Apple, creating the “Mac vs PC” campaign, as well as steering the marketing launches for ground-breaking products such as the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. In 2006, he started the TBWA offshoot Media Arts Lab to work directly with the company. Jobs once said of Clow, “working with Lee has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.”

Advertising is a business that has had more than its fair share of iconic creative leaders, though they’re fewer than they were before the days of the global conglomerates. Clow is part of a generation of those that dominated from the 1980s into the early 21st century, along with names like BBH’s John Hegarty, Wieden+Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, and BBDO’s Phil Dusenberry. Only Goodby and Silverstein remain active in their agency work. Today, advertising is less about its superstar execs, and more about the agency collective (that’s not a bad thing!), and Clow is viewed as a singular, influential legend of the business.

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He originally announced his retirement plan to the agency and close friends back in October, but this makes it official. To mark the next phase of his career, Clow penned a “Love Letter to Advertising,” which we publish here:

Jay Chiat liked sending Valentine’s to the agency.
I’ve never sent one.

But I thought it’s be a great way to end the celebration of Chiat/Day’s 50 years and my journey with the company.

On Jay’s birthday in October, at a party celebrating 50 years of Chiat/Day, I told everyone that I was officially retiring.

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 for anything else.

Everyday to come to “work” with the smartest, , freest, most passionate people in business; all of us with the goal of creating messages to put out into the world that will be noticed, that people will talk about, even become famous.

They make people laugh, or cry, or think. Discover something new, see the world differently, maybe even buy something?

To be Media Artists.

And remembering the people. The funny ones. The crazy ones. The smartest ones. The not-smartest ones.

The partners. The clients. The mentors. How we challenged each other. Inspired each other. Making each other better.

So this is a love letter to “advertising.”

This crazy business that gave me everything. Friendship, pride, accomplishment, and love.

And to all the people I’ve known over the last 50 years, and to every one of you who will continue, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love,
Lee

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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