NEW YORK – If you can still excite young people, you never grow old. And advertising’s legendary George Lois is still on fire. He is a creative force at his son Luke’s firm, Good Karma Creative, and he is still writing books that are must-reads, especially for young communications and advertising professionals.
City College of New York (CCNY) President Lisa Coico hosted a special book signing and reception on October 5 for Lois to celebrate his career and his new book, Lois Logos – The Creative Punch of Big Idea Branding
The students who filled the event space of Shepard Hall were there not only because their professors told them to attend, but also because they were fascinated by the man and eager to buy his book.
After the featured speaker and the guests enjoyed becoming acquainted during the reception, a simple video that flashed some of Lois’ most famous logos and other works was shown, accompanied by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
The classic musical evocation of Manhattan was the perfect introduction for the quintessential New Yorker and the crowd was mesmerized – evidence of the enduring power of Lois’ work.
President Coico was unable to attend, and so Professor Ed Keller welcomed the guests on her behalf. Always “on,” Lois called out in the midst of Keller’s long recitation of people to acknowledge: “when do you thank me?”
After the burst of laughter, CCNY Provost Dr. Maurizio Trevisan introduced Lois by calling “one of the most prolific advertising communicators of our time…Running his own marketing agency, George is renowned for dozens of marketing miracles that triggered innovative change in American culture… George popularized brands and made them household name.”
He cited a few: MTV, USA Today, Jiffy Lube.
In 2008, the Museum of Modern Art installed 38 of his Esquire covers in its permanent collection, but Greek-Americans know Lois best for his spectacularly successful Greek tourism campaign with non-Greek celebrities declaring – “I’m going home…to Greece”
After touching on what causes designs and campaigns to fail, Lois said the way he approaches creating, he focused on logos, “is controversial, therefore revolutionary.”
He said he considers himself a communicator, however, not a designer, because I create big ideas, not designs, and shared some of the thinking he elaborated upon in his famous book “What’s the Big Idea?”
“A logo should contain an essential idea” with a design “that communicates personality. It must have blood running through it…a quickly recognizable face,” he said.
The face’s bone structure, however, must consist of a solid marketing idea, and “the design must explain the idea.”
He challenged the students in the room to dive deeply into their projects. “If you can’t get meaning into everything you design, there is no meaning in your work.”
He said that “great graphic design is not the arrangement of lives and shape…It is the transformation of a big idea into an unforgettable image.”
He continued: “the mystical blendings of copy, concept and art, dramatized by a unique image in synergy with words… that can communicate in a nanosecond, always ignites an immediate intellectual and visceral human response.”
Lois said “The result should be – must be – a creative image that catches people’s eyes, enters their minds, warms their hearts, and causes them to act.”
After seizing the attention of the aspiring professionals, he reached out the developing human being in each of them too.
“A truly great graphic and verbal communicator reflects, understands and adapts to the culture, anticipates the culture, criticizes changes in the culture, and helps to change it…”
He concluded by saying aspiring to the communicators “our mission in life cannot be to sedate, but to awaken, disturb , communicate and command, to instigate and even to provoke… Now more than even we must speak truth to power, whatever the cost.”
Lois’ words are credible. He went through life putting his money where his mouth was, regardless of who was in the room. Some of the stories will soon become better known.
Keller, who teaches in the advertising and PR program at CCNY and met Lois as a 25 year old at his first job in advertising, told TNH he and Lois are working on a book that will feature “The back stories of the great campaigns George was involved with, and the movers and shaker of the past 60 years.”
Guests also learned of Lois’ deepening relationship with CCNY, which is near his beloved alma mater, the High School of Music and Art. He announced he will deposit his archives at CCNY, where he aslo serves as an advisor.
As some guests got their books signed, other chatted with Lois’ wife, Rosie, a designer, and his grandson and namesake George, who is a filmmaker.