Tips From The Original Mad Man


Meet George:

George Lois is an American art director, designer, and author. Early in his career, he pioneered the concept of "The Big Idea. Combining shrewd visual images with irreverent copy, he created a plethora of seminal advertising moments in American history, making more products famous than anyone in the marketing world. He is the only person alive who has been installed in the Art Directors Hall of Fame, the Creative hall of Fame, and a recipient of the AIGA Lifetime Achievement Medal as well as receiving hundreds of industry awards. Mr. Lois is an art director by craft, a communicator by instinct, a writer by imagination and an entrepreneur by character. 

After reading his latest book, I decided to share some of the ideas he discussed in the book. An eye opener and interesting read for any creative!

Enjoy His Tips Below:

1. MY FIRST COMMANDMENT: THE WORD COMES FIRST, THEN THE VISUAL.

When young art directors ask me to reveal my "formula" for creating advertising, I answer … start with the word! This advice, with a biblical reference, is carved in stone--my first commandment. Art directors, presumed by many to be illiterate, are expected to think visually--and most do. They sift through magazines to find visuals, however disjointed and inappropriate, to help them "get started." Most art directors, unfortunately, do not sit and try to write the idea: They usually wait with their thumbs up their ass for a writer to furnish the words, which usually are not visually pregnant. By contrast, a handful of great art directors are authors of some of the finest headlines in advertising--or they work intimately with gifted writers as they conjure concepts together. Conversely, even when a writer works on his own, his words must lend themselves to visual excitement--because a big campaign idea can only be expressed in words that absolutely bristle with visual possibilities, leading to words and visual imagery working in perfect synergy.

If you’re an art director, heed my words: Each ad, TV spot, and campaign is in your hands--it’s your baby. If you’re a copywriter, on the other hand, you must work with a talented visual communicator!


2. BREVITY ROCKS

"If a client takes ten minutes to tells me about his business, then it’s not a big idea," Lois says. "Advice" cites Abraham Lincoln’s apology for writing a long letter because 'I didn’t have time to write a short one.' Condense the concept, because, Lois writes "After three sentences of explanation, people’s eyes glaze over."
Case Study: Lois yoked celebrity and a call to action with four words that transformed a upstart cable network into a national powerhouse. "I want my MTV" became a generational battle cry after Lois, a pioneer in exploiting celebrity cachet, persuaded Mick Jagger to appear in a TV commercial delivering the line.


3. TRUST YOUR GUT

"Ad agencies do all kinds of market research that ask people what they think they want, and instead you should be creating things that you want. If you do something and you get it, the rest of the world will get it. too. Trust your own instincts, your own intellect, and your own sense of humor."
Case Study: After restaurant critic Gale Green slammed one of Lois’ clients, he took out a subtly snarky full-page ad that never would have gotten approved by focus groups. Centered on a one-sentence note that read: "Dear Ms. Greene. After all the lovely meals we’ve had together--Restaurant Associates." Readers picked up on the subtext and began flocking to the Four Seasons.


4. TEAMWORK MIGHT WORK IN BUILDING AN AMISH BARN, BUT IT CAN’T CREATE A BIG IDEA.

The accepted system for the creation of innovative thinking in a democratic environment is to work cooperatively in a team-like ambience. Don’t believe it. Whatever the creative industry, when you’re confronted with the challenge of coming up with a Big Idea, always work with the most talented, innovative mind available. Hopefully … that’s you. Avoid group grope and analysis paralysis. The greatest innovative thinker of our age remains Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, a modern-day Henry Ford. Jobs was not a consensus builder but a dictator who listened to his own intuitions, blessed with an astonishing aesthetic sense.

Everybody believes in co-creativity-not me. Be confident of your own, edgy, solo talent.

(Once you’ve got the Big Idea, that’s where teamwork comes in--sellingthe Big Idea, producing the Big Idea, and bringing the Big Idea into fruition.)


5. TO CREATE GREAT WORK, HERE’S HOW YOU MUST SPEND YOUR TIME: 1% INSPIRATION, 9% PERSPIRATION, 90% JUSTIFICATION.

I don’t care how talented you are. If you’re the kind of creative person who gets your best work produced--justifying and selling your work (to those around you, to your boss, to your client, to lawyers, to TV copy clearance, etc.) is what separates the sometimes good creative thinker from the consistently great one.

6. RESEARCH IS THE ENEMY OF CREATIVITY--UNLESS IT’S YOUR OWN "CREATIVE" RESEARCH (HEH-HEH).


Advertising is an art, not a science. If you create advertising to pass a research test (as almost all establishment agencies do), the "science" of advertising runs the show. Most of my ad campaigns would have flunked commercial pre-testing because edgy, sometimes mind-blowing concepts get ripped apart in group-grope "focus groups." I once used research (conceived and conducted by my agency) to create a gigantic marketing success for Quaker’s Aunt Jemima pancake brand.

Inexplicably, Quaker refused to market an Aunt Jemima syrup, a no-brainer if I ever poured one. Their management was adamant every time I brought it up. But I plunged ahead with a research questionnaire devised on Aunt Jemima pancake mix, including one question at the end of the survey asking consumers to name the syrup brand they used most recently--and I included the nonexistent Aunt Jemima syrup among a list of 10 brands. Eighty-nine out of 100 pancake eaters claimed they had purchased Aunt Jemima syrup that year! The honchos at Quaker were stunned and convinced by my results--and they finally plunged into the syrup business. Within a year, the new Aunt Jemima syrup became the best-selling syrup in America.

If you can’t convince a client to produce a no-brainer win, manipulate them any way you can to win them over.

7. CREATING ADVERTISING THAT IS ICON RATHER THAN CON DEPENDS ON THE DEEP BELIEF THAT YOUR MESSAGE IS MORE THAN THE PURCHASE OF A PRODUCT OR SERVICE.

In 1961, Dr. Benjamin Spock asked me to do a New York subway poster. Nuclear testing in the atmosphere by the U.S. and the Soviet Union was threatening the continuation of life on our planet, without one bomb being dropped in the Cold War conflict. Dr. Spock, one of the bravest leaders of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), alerted the public with warnings by Nobel scientists that the fallout from radioactive materials would result in a growing number of birth defects and deaths. The poster combined the image of a pregnant woman with a hard-hitting, absolutely factual headline. The press called me a commie sympathizer. Today, nearly half a century after the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, it seems incomprehensible that a poster about the malignant peril of nuclear fallout could ever have sparked such outrage. But my poster made an iconic statement that opened the eyes of many in those scary days.

If you don’t believe that advertising can be icon rather than con, you’ll never understand the potential of great creativity.



8. NEVER EAT SHIT. (IF IT LOOKS LIKE SHIT, AND IT SMELLS LIKE SHIT, AND IT TASTES LIKE SHIT... IT'S SHIT. 


If you're in a relationship (with your boss, supervisor, partner, or client) and you suspect that you are continually being used and/or abused, admit it-you're eating shit. Without the courage to put an end to it, you'll never create great work. Put an end to it.


9. YOU CAN NEVER LEARN ANYTHING FROM A MISTAKE


Nobody's perfect. I always swing for homers, rather than lay down drag bunts. Trouble is, I sometimes strike out. I've had a few bombs, turkeys, misses (let's call them stinkers), but I contend to this day that they were all magnificent conceptions. A failure is supposed to give you pause, shake you up, humble you. But that would be the end of being a fearless, creative thinker.
Onwards and upwards, and never give your failures a second thought.

10. OPEN WIDE AND SAY "AAAH!"

If you're a creative in any business, think of yourself as a doctor giving a patient medicine that will save his life. I'm serious.