Including art directors in the creative hall of fame formalizes the marriage between word and image in the creative process. It’s therefore fitting that one of the grooms in this marriage should be George Lois – that incorrigible maverick who brought a street intelligence and an audacious sense of human feeling into this merging. He reached for a unified imagery of word and visual that mirrored a strong truth and conveyed a very human feeling.
His view of the advertising person’s role as a communicator elevated the role of the art director from a back room artisan to a masthead presence. Several agencies have borne the name Lois, emphasizing the rightness of art directors in the management of our business. In so doing, Lois, the Greek kid from the Bronx, the florist’s son who went to the High School of Music & Art, then on to Pratt, which he left after just one year to pursue his calling – helped bring about a revolution in advertising. Bill Bernbach formally married the artist to the writer, but Lois went beyond that, by validating a management role for the liberated art director.
In 1961, Lois put Wolfschmidt vodka on the map with this famous “talking bottle” campaign. The horizontal Wolfschmidt bottle is saying to the orange, “You sweet doll, I appreciate you. I’ve got taste. I’ll bring out the real orange in you. I’ll make you famous. Kiss me.” On the previous week, the lecherous Wolfschmidt bottle had made a pass at a tomato to consummate a Bloody Mary. Hence the orange now replies, “Who was that tomato I saw you with last week?” Until this campaign, no alcoholic beverage had been advertised in such a simple, symbolic, erotic style – and none since. It was an audacious departure from beautiful people in penthouses – the great graphic clich?f booze advertising in that era.
Lois is also known for his breakthrough work in magazine covers. For an entire decade, from ’62 to ’72, he created more than 100 covers for Esquire, most of them notorious – Svetlana Stalin with her father’s moustache… Sonny Liston as the first Black Santa Claus… Hubert Humphrey as a dummy on Lyndon Johnson’s knee… Andy Warhol drowning in his own can of soup… and while awaiting trial for his role in the massacre at My Lai, the real Lieutenant Calley in this still controversial cover. The work of Lois for Esquire gave it a personality, a fire, a spirit – that set it apart for years to come.
A dozen years later, in 1982, Lois Pitts Gershon’s cable subsidiary was awarded the Music Television account from Warner Amex. When MTV came on the cable scene it was abhorred by cable operators, feared by music publishers and shunned by advertisers. George’s campaign, “I want my MTV” has helped make MTV the greatest mass cultural phenomenon since the invention of TV.
He brought a new sense of powerful self esteem to the art director. His career proves that knowing the difference between Cheltenham and Futura does not mean that one’s career should be tied forever to a drawing table. He is an art director by craft, a communicator by instinct, and an entrepreneur by character.
It was therefore natural that as an art director, he should become a prime decision maker. Geore Lois expanded the horizons of all creative professionals. He has thus enriched the very essence of our business.