George Lois’ Maps to Big Ideas En Route to City College Archives 



NEW YORK – George Lois, the iconic advertising man – the covers he designed for Esquire Magazine are in the?permanent?collection at The?Museum of Modern Art – has donated his entire archives to City College of New York.

The material Lois will donate to City College includes recordings of television and radio commercials and print advertisement he created or worked on, and the books he showed to clients with his plans for advertising campaign’s products.

“I wish I’d saved more,” the 84-year old dynamo told The New York Times – which noted his powerful Bronx accent.

Lois, who later became a prolific author, said he knew all along that he would send them to a special place.

“From the time I was in my early 30s people wanted my archives,” he said. Last year his wife told him, “George, why don’t you give your archives to City College? the Times reported.

The idea immediately rang a bell. Lois had been working with Edward Keller, an associate professor at City College, who had also worked in advertising,” and the neighborhood had special meaning for him; his beloved High School of Music and Art used to be nearby.

Mrs. Lois told TNH, “I didn’t realize when I suggested it that City College has about 10 alumni who won Nobel prizes – is that amazing? And he went to high school near there and knows it well, and he loves New York so much. He is the ultimate New Yorker, so he is thrilled.”

She fell in love with the City after coming from Syracuse, NY. “I first came in September 1949. I met George on the first day of school at Pratt Institute. We have been married for 64 years.”

“I’m a City kid.” Lois told TNH. People from all over the country have been trying to get my archives – Texas, Duke University – but they have tons of archives of graphic designers.” He doesn’t’ want his materials to get lost there.

He had some involvement with City College since his high school was a neighbor, and now plans to be very active.

“The High School of Music and Art is the greatest institution of learning since Alexander sat at the feet of Aristotle. That high school made my career. I was lucky enough that my art teacher in elementary school sent me there – I had never heard of it – and it changed my life,” he said.

When he was asked if there was anything in particular he wanted to hold onto, Lois replied “I’d like to keep it all, but I am giving them everything I can find. They will archive it and make it available to anyone who wants to see it – I am kind of giving it to New York, and in memory of my immigrant parents, Charalambos Lois and Vasiliki Thanasoulis.”

“I have a Hilfiger poster that Tommy’s begging for,” he told the Times, which noted “The Tommy Hilfiger poster blossomed on telephone kiosks in the pre-cell phone 1980s, and Mr. Lois said it jump-started the designer’s career. And of all the Hilfiger posters on all the kiosks in Manhattan, the poster Mr. Lois has is apparently the only one that was not thrown away.”

Hilfiger is not getting the poster.

Jeffrey F. Machi, the vice president for development and institutional advancement of City College told the Times, “George Lois is extremely important to us because we have a new program, a master’s program in advertising, branding and integrated communications…George Lois’s work is extremely critical to our ability to provide a unique approach to our advertising program.”

“In particular in those archives,” Mr. Machi added, “he has entire marketing plan books for each of his

campaigns. We hope they become a critical component for students to understand how to set up

their own campaigns.”


“I think I’m the only person in the history of advertising who in every presentation to a client would come up with a big advertising idea,” – one of his books is titled “What’s the Big Idea?: How to Win with Outrageous Ideas (That Sell!)”?and then figure out the strategy.”

He said that constituted “working backwards” in an industry.

“I would do a logo if need be, and 10 ads, story boards for five or six commercials – a couple of years’ worth of advertising… and exhaustive amount of work to show them how the campaign concept really cooks and will work through time,” he said.

Many art directors begin with… the art, but Lois, whose eye rivals them all – he has a remarkable art collection – knows the value of integrating everything with a powerful concept.

“I always go right for the jugular, right for the advertising idea,” he said.

But it is his extraordinary intuition that guides him, not abstract thinking. Lois points out that “advertising is not a science, it’s an art. To this day everyone thinks it’s a science. They do research and marketing and strategizing, etc. but these are basically mediocre marketing guys” that are slaves to tradition.

“When I talk to a possible client for a half an hour I walk out of there and know immediately how to do a campaign that will be a knock out, doubling or tripling their business or making their business. I have done that many times,” he said

“MTV was dead in the water – boom! – I want my MTV…ESPN was considered a demolition derby network – boom! – they became number one…Hilfiger became famous in a week – but you don’t do that thinking strategically or scientifically; you do that by coming up with an idea that knocks people over and is memorable.”

Although young advertising students will now be able to access his material, they will not find road maps or recipes to genius. Lois’ intuition and passion that are a blend of artistic genes that go back for generations in humble circumstances in Greece and his Greek immigrant upbringing in the Big Apple are unique and inaccessible – but they will marvel.



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