George Lois, What's the big Idea?

 
 

George Lois, What's the big Idea?

'You'd be paranoic too if people were out to get you!' by George Lois. From the book; What's the big idea?

Revisionism is a hazard of the advertising life. Credit for the big idea and disputes about who said or wrote what when can drive you up the wall if you let that kind of backbiting get to you. Advertising attracts intense personalities who thrive on the heat of confrontation, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Advertising also attracts many untalented personalaties who pretend to creative ingenuity, who take credit for work they could never have athoured. Several times a year I receive portfolios from creative people that include som of my work. I shrug and go about my business.

More than in most professions, the ego factor is a rampant force in advertising, and I don't say this in a negative sense. All our great innovators (in and out of advertising) have been men and women of towering egos. The ego is the furnace of great work, but you can't let it's steam scald you. Everything I do is a collaboration with other people, all extremly conscious of who did what or who originated what great theme or who suggested what great visual. I can understand these concerns, but I won't get sucked into that zoo.

I also have to live with the 'factoid factor' - the conversion of anything that appears in print, however wrong or untrue, as fact, which Norman Mailer aptly labeled a factiod. Factoids are abound in advertising. Trade journals employ many writers who are not only untutored in advertising but are also not very experinced reporters or researchers. they rewrite advertising history based on imperfect information and commit their 'facts' to print, thus creating a factoid, which becomes an established source for other writers. In a recent book I came upon the subject of Xerox, which contains this outstanding claim;

For decades the cheif impetus for sales and rentals was simply seeing the near-miracle of the 914 in action. Only in the early 1980s, when the competitors finally became a threat, did Xerox really begin to advertise, and their All-Time Greatest campaign was the devout monk reminding us what a miracle the original invention had been.

A new factoid has been created and a new generation of students scholars and trade press reporters will use this factoid again and again. For the rest of my life I could send letters to publishers and editors pointing out that I used a monkey to sell Xerox 914 on telivision at least twenty years earlier, and because of that advertising and our telivision campaigns that followed in a series of classic CBS specials (" Death of a salesman", "The Kremlin", "Mark Twain Tonight") - "Xerox Culture" became an integral aspect of American business life and made anyone who bought Xerox stock rich.

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I can shake off creative applicants who include my work in their portfolios and I can laugh at those silly awards, but I can't forgive phony claims to authorships of a genuinly big idea. New York magazine was such an idea.

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From the chapter "Don't take the big idea for granted"

"......and I retrieved from my mental dossier of triumphs and tragicomedies the memory of my first big sale when I was an upstart art director at Doyle Dane Bernbach many years before. In that formative year (1959), I had designed a dramatic poster for New York's most important maker of matzohs, A. Goodman & Sons in Long Island City. My work was a huge, gorgeous, realer-than-real color blowup of a matzoh with the headline "Kosher for Passover" lettered in Hebrew. It was scheduled to run in New York's subways just before Passover. In multi-ethnic New York, my Hebrew lettering communicated with the clarity of a shamrock in a Queens saloon. But, alas, the account supervisor of Doyle Dane Bernbach presented it to the owner of Goodman, who turned it down. I appealed to Bill Bernbach, and he grudgingly made a date with the client so that I could make a last attempt to pitch him personally. It wasn't easy. The Goodman boss was an Oid Testament patriarch with a forbidding manner, and his vocabulary was limited to "I dun like it" and "no." After what seemed like hours of fruitless persuasion, the old man folded his arms across his chest, slumped back in his chair, and shook his head at me sadly.

"There must be some way I can sell you on this," I said. I rolled up the poster and climbed out the window. I stood on the outer ledge, high above the pavement, gripping the raised sash with my left hand while I waved the poster with my free hand as I screamed from the ledge at the top of my lungs, loud enough to be heard in all of Long Island City: "You make the matzoh, I'll make the ads!" "Stop, stop," cried the old man. "Ve'll run it, ve'll run it. You made your point already. Come in, come in, please!" I climbed back into the room and thanked the patriarch for the nice way he had reviewed my work. As I was leaving, he called out after me, "If you ever kvit edvertising, young man, you got yourself ah job as ah matzoh salesman." "

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