He's gone now, a victim of cancer this month at age 56. But consider what his creative leadership has left behind: beautiful, break-the-mold campaigns for Levi Strauss & Co. (1984's "501 Blues" for 501 jeans and 1992's "Colors" for Dockers, among them) and the hugely popular "California Raisins" campaign of the mid-1980s, to name just three.
Writing in this paper in December 1993, as FCB celebrated its 120th anniversary, Mr. Koelker dismissed his creative credo as simple: "Make it simple. Make it beautiful. That's it. Don't copy. Don't do anything ugly." Simple? Yes, but demanding as well. And, his colleagues and friends point out, Mike Koelker could bring to that formulation a special humanity. His "501 Blues" campaign embraced non-glamorous actors and unconventional music in gritty urban backgrounds-and it became an instant classic. His intent, he would say later, was for the ads to say, "Whoever you are, you're okay. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, or thin or fat, or athletic or in a wheelchair. You're a human being. You're a good person. You are welcome here in the society of man."
Mike Koelker showed that great advertising can sell and entertain and convey a higher message about life, as well. For the example he set, the advertising business owes him thanks.