I picked up the book $ELLEBRITY by George Lois on sale for $10. I knew a little bit about the man, very little really, just that he’s been a big time ad exec since the 1950’s. I figured, what the hell! I was on vacation, I had time and it was only 10 bucks! Plus, Muhammad Ali is on the cover and I’ve always found him to be a fascinating person.
What I didn’t expect was that I was unable to put this book down. Now, I read a lot. And I read quickly. And it’s not unusual for me to become totally engrossed in a book and read it in just a few sittings. But with this book, I really was unable to put it down. I read every single word, looked at every single picture, with complete fascination and the desire to literally absorb every single detail.
Today’s marketing buzzwords are all about the Internet, e-marketing, going “viral”, e-mail blitzes, social networks, social media, blogs, websites. What was so fascinating to me about this book was Lois’ creativity with print media. Remember when people still read magazines? In the 60’s, Lois began designing some of the most creative, memorable covers for Esquire magazine. Does Andy Warhol drowning in a giant can of Campbell’s Soup ring any bells?
Some of Lois’ best known ad works were for Cutty Sark, No nonsense pantyhose, Jiffy Lube, Revlon, Tommy Hilfiger, the New York Post, ESPN and MTV. He also worked on Senate campaigns for Bobby Kennedy and Warren Magnuson, and even though he was a registered Democrat, he worked on Hugh Scott’s campaign after Scott convinced him with this argument: “The only thing that separated Richard Nixon from Fascism…was Hugh Scott.”
Lois also campaigned to have Rubin “Hurricane” Carter released from prison with ads in The New York Times and calling on celebrities nation-wide to rally for Carter. Amongst those celebs, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Ed Koch, Ellen Burstyn, Dyan Cannon, Johnny Cash and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Lois goes over some of his very best “Big Ideas” in a readable, interesting and often funny way to tell the stories behind the ads. He’s an outrageous, intelligent and cocky (critics will say arrogant) man. Personally, I like those traits in a person. Let’s put it this way, after he wrote his first book in 1972, The New York Times said “George Lois may be nearly as great a genius of mass communications as he acclaims himself to be”. And that character shines throughout this book. To boot, he’s Greek!
Love him or hate him, you have to admire the talent. His awards and accolades are numerous and include being the youngest inductee in the Art Directors Hall of Fame. There were 3 things that impressed me more than his awards, though:
- He had developed an ad showing a cowboy shooting off a gun and saying “Anyone who doesn’t want to go to Dallas got to be plumb loco” scheduled to air the day JFK was shot. He pulled the ad. The idiot in charge fired him for it.
- In 1959, he refused to be part of the team hired to come up with a campaign for Volkswagen because of Hitler’s involvement in creating the “People’s Automobile”.
- He met former bootlegger, Samuel Bronfman, (arguably the most famous Montrealer ever) of Seagram’s and laughed hysterically when Sam called his company a “pig-fucking agency”! He won over Sam and the Seagram’s account.
All in all, 10$ well spent!