I first heard of George Lois much like many of my Mad Men loving contemporaries — through the film Helvetica. Here was this man, larger than life, creating with unwavering passion, who had brand campaigns to his name that I had actually heard of.
MTV? You couldn’t escape their mesmerizing promotions and programming. I think every American on earth born before 1990 must know the saying “I want my MTV.” Tommy Hilfiger? I can remember in 8th grade every boy who had any swagger (and I certainly didn’t) wearing that cologne, and I swear the clothing transcended all cultural boundaries. George Lois helped to create the campaigns behind them both, as well as decade’s worth of historic covers for Esquire magazine.
For those who don’t already know George, he was the original inspiration for Don Draper on AMC’s Mad Men. Although Lois and AMC eventually had a falling out — while Lois was consulting, Draper’s character devolved into a womanizing, adulterous, alcoholic, of which Lois is none of the above — the charisma and pure creative prowess that Draper portrays is, at its core, an honest representation of the advertising behemoth that Lois actually is.
On the precipice of our new brand and product launch, it seemed fitting to have such an iconic figure come and speak with us for an evening. The event we set up included an overview of Lois’ work and a Q&A on his philosophy and career. On the night of the talk, as I took George’s hand, he looked down at what I was wearing. “I love your shirt!” he said. “Would you look at that! It looks like a Rorschach of a bunch of people screwing!” He quickly followed up with a dirty joke. That unfiltered honesty and quick wit is key to Lois’ success.
George then sat down to our intimate audience and proceeded to speak about his legacy in advertising, where he saw it now, and how he went about discovering the notion of the “Big Idea,” which he tried to employ in all of his creative work.
It’s an always an inspiration to meet individuals like George Lois, who have risen to the mythological ranks of the ad industry and have such a connection to the place they live. In the essence of the man himself, I leave you with a final sentiment of ad-god machismo. “Grab ’em by the balls, ya schmuck!”