Virtual Memories Show 242: George Lois
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“Everybody working today asks me, ‘How did you get away with THAT?’ I tell ’em, ‘Same way you could: if you had balls.’ And talent.”
Legendary ad-man George Lois joins the show to talk about 50+ years of shaping American culture and to give us some Damn Good Advice. We start out with the day he quit his life as the Greek florist’s son, began art school, and met the love of his life (all in the same day), before getting to the most prolific period in his monumental career, his experience as one of the first “ethnics” in the ad business, what goes into having The Big Idea, how he and Muhammad Ali busted each other’s chops, how he created the ad that created Tommy Hilfiger, making those Esquire covers, getting fired off the Xerox account three times before making Xerox a household word, what he wants to do next (at 86), and more! Give it a listen! [NOTE: This one’s got some N-bombs in it, but not in a derogatory way. If use of that word offends you, don’t listen to this episode.]
“He said, ‘You like slogans? But that’s so old-fashioned!’ I said, ‘Phil, f***ing is old-fashioned, but it works!”
Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!
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About our Guest
The legendary George Lois is the most creative, prolific advertising communicator of our time. Running his own ad agencies, he is renowned for dozens of marketing miracles that triggered innovative and populist changes in American (and world) culture. In his twenties he was a pioneer of the landmark Creative Revolution in American Advertising.
He introduced and popularized the Xerox culture; he created the concept and prototype design for the New York supplement for the Herald Tribune (the forerunner of New York magazine); made a failing MTV a huge success with his “I Want My MTV” campaign; helped create and introduce VH1; created a new marketing category, Gourmet Frozen Foods, with his name Lean Cuisine; and (by inventing yet another new marketing phenomenon) persuaded America to change their motor oil at thousands of Jiffy Lube stations. He made the totally unknown Tommy Hilfiger immediately famous with just one ad; and saved USA Today from extinction with his breakthrough “singing” TV campaign.
In 1994, almost overnight, he changed the perception of ESPN from a “Demolition Derby” sports channel to the number one sports network with his dynamic “In Your Face” campaign. Additionally he created the winning ad campaigns for four U.S. Senators: Jacob Javits; Warren Magnuson; Minority Leader Hugh Scott; and Robert Kennedy. His list of breakthrough ad campaigns goes on and on.
The only music video he created, Jokerman by Bob Dylan, won the MTV Best Music Video of the Year Award in 1983. And in 2008, the Museum of Modern Art installed 38 of his iconic Esquire covers in its permanent collection, celebrated by a year-long exhibit: George Lois: The Esquire Covers @ MOMA by George Lois.
He’s the author of an autobiography, George, Be Careful: A Greek Florist’s Kid in the Roughhouse World of Advertising, as well as The Art of Advertising, What’s The Big Idea?, Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!), Covering the ’60s, $ellebrity, Ali Rap, and more.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at George’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of George by me. It’s on my instagram.