“Great ideas can’t be tested. Only mediocre ideas can be tested.”
George Lois is the guy who created the “I want my MTV” slogan and invented the concept of Lean Cuisine. Now 81, the graphic designer/art director/copywriter may be best known for his 92 cover designs for Esquire magazine from 1962 to 1972, which have been exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art.
When asked about the hit TV series Mad Men, Lois dismisses it as a soap opera, and also notes that it missed the real story:
…ignoring the dynamics of the Creative Revolution that changed the world of communications forever…That dynamic period of counterculture in the 1960s found expression on Madison Avenue through a new creative generation—a rebellious coterie of art directors and copywriters who understood that visual and verbal expression were indivisible.
Lois is responsible for quite a few books over the years including The Art of Advertising and Sellebrity, the most recent of which is Damn Good Advice, which is nicely profiled in this article at Fast Company:
7 Pieces of “Damn Good” Creative Advice from ’60s Ad Man George Lois:
“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.
Lois says, “When people talk to you about their business and you listen hard, there’s a good chance they’ll say something and you go ‘Son of a bitch, that’s it!’ Then when you show your idea to the guy, he doesn’t even know he gave it to you.”
“Museums are custodians of epiphanies, and these epiphanies enter the central nervous system and deep recesses of the mind.”
Lois shot a TV commercial showing a toddler making photocopies. When the FCC objected that the ad misrepresented the machine’s ease of use, Lois shot a new commercial showing a chimpanzee making photocopies. He invited FCC staffers to attend the shoot.
When it comes to pulling concepts out of thin air, “It’s about understanding what the hell’s going on around you,” says Lois, who spends an hour each morning poring through the New York Times.
“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. Trust your own instincts, your own intellect, and your own sense of humor.”
Lois believes in “writing the idea” rather than trawling randomly for visual inspiration. “A big campaign can only be expressed in words that lend themselves to visual excitement.”
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