George Lois: 'Effective advertising is like poison gas'

Decades before Damn Good Advice, our favourite ad man told a 1974 documentary exactly how he saw it




“The feeling that you can take something and throw it out there like poison gas – that’s sensational,” says a 42-year-old George Lois in a 1974 American TV documentary we just came across about the country’s then booming advertising business. At the time, just 4,000 advertising agencies in America were turning out 40,000 TV commercials each year, yet the ad men behind them were largely anonymous – they didn’t sign their work and rarely appeared on screen. However, the age of innocence was at an end and the public were beginning to see advertisers as manipulators. In his segment, George Lois does little to alter this perception for the better by gleefully likening his work's effect as something akin to letting off a poison gas – hardly surprising from a man who recently wrote that it was better to be a cultural provocateur than simply a creative. 

“The important thing’s got to be that you implant an idea out there and everybody in a very human way understands it, grasps it, and is excited by it," he says. "If that end result doesn’t happen, I don’t care how beautiful I think something is, or how exciting the language is, if people don’t react, I’ve struck out.”

Watch the video above and for more Lois gems, check out his book Damn Good Advice (for people with talent), and if you want to see some examples of the work that made his name, $ellebrity is a visual survey of the great man's career.



Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
Read more