Legendary Adman Helped Revolutionize Business

By Published on .

Most Popular
SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Legendary adman Jay Chiat died early today following a
Jay Chiat passed away today.
Community Reaction:
The Man Who 'Kicked The Ad Industry in the Ass'
Quotes from Chairman Jay's Little Red Book

long bout with cancer. He was 70.

Mr. Chiat died at his home in the Los Angeles area surrounded by his children, said Bob Kuperman, longtime Chiat/Day executive and now chairman-CEO of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, New York.

"It's a sad day for all his friends and the business," said Mr. Kuperman, who praised Mr. Chiat's "purity, creativity and a genius that isn't around right now."

Mr. Chiat's family plans a private service this weekend. Services are expected to be held in both New York and Los Angeles, though no date has been set, according to a spokesman for TBWA/Chiat/Day.

$37-a-week NBC tour guide
Mr. Chiat, the son of a Bronx laundry delivery man, graduated from Rutgers University in 1953. For a time, he worked as an NBC tour guide for $37 a week. After a stint in the Air Force in 1956, he moved to Southern California, where he landed a job with Leland Oliver Co. as a copywriter.

Forty years ago, he opened a shop with his name on the door, but he did not make his mark on the business until he joined with Guy Day to form Chiat/Day in 1968.

Breakthrough ad: '1984'
He was the force behind what was considered

Jay Chiat's '1984' spot for Apple Computer broke convention.
Play the video (RealPlayer Required)

one of the breakthrough ads of all time, the "1984" spot for Apple Computer's MacIntosh in which an Olympic hammer thrower shattered convention. But Mr. Chiat's influence on the industry was much like that of the hammer thrower.

Another example of Mr. Chiat's artistic breakthroughs was the large murals painted on buildings in Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The so-called "I Love L.A." campaign for Nike was among the first high-impact uses of supersize billboards.

"Jay Chiat evolved advertising to a near art form," said Rob Siltanen, chairman and chief creative officer of Siltanen/Keehn, El Segundo, Calif., and a Chiat/Day veteran. "Huge pictures of athletes on a wall -- now the side of a building is going to be our canvas. Who had ever done that?"

Bevy of awards
Over the years, Chiat/Day, with a strategy of using its work to further not only its clients' business but its own as well, amassed a bevy of awards, including being named Advertising Age's Agency of the Year in 1980 and 1988 and Agency of the Decade in 1990.

The shop's list of former clients was almost as impressive as its successes: Nike, Pizza Hut and American Express Co., among others.

Under his reign, the agency helped build the West Coast advertising culture and introduced account planning into the U.S. from England. He also shattered the advertising work environment, hiring architect Frank Gehry to build a binocular-shaped building for the agency's Venice, Calif., headquarters. One of his most famous exploits was the "virtual office," in which employees were given cell phones but no permanent desks to conduct business.

The agency's financial difficulties eventually led to its sale to Omnicom Group.

Agency spawned industry leaders
More than a half dozen of the industry's top leaders today trace their roots to Mr. Chiat's agency. They include Lee Clow, chairman, worldwide creative director, TBWA/Chiat/Day; Rick Boyko, co-president, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and chief creative officer, North America; and Steve Hayden, vice chairman worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather.

Mr. Chiat's management style was almost as famous

Jay Chiat popularized the Energizer Bunny created by DDB Worldwide.
as his advertising. Employees wore t-shirts reading "Chiat/Day and Night," a reference to the long hours staffers were expected to work. Other slogans the agency popularized were "Good Enough Isn't."

Irritated performance
"He irritated better performance out of you, like the grain of sand in the oyster," said Mr. Hayden, who worked with Chiat/Day in the early days.

"Jay and I were perfect partners in a lot of ways," Guy Day said. "The only thing we agreed on 98% was advertising. Our lifestyles were poles apart."

Mr. Day said he knew "the secret to Jay: all he wants is to be a player."

So it was one day when the two went to Las Vegas. "I saw the whole net worth [of the agency] on the crap table," he said. "I didn't want to watch."

~ ~ ~
Mail/condolences can go to:
Edwina von Gal
Edwina von Gal & Company
11-17 43rd Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

Donations can be made in Jay Chiat's name to:
Otis College of Art & Design
9045 Lincoln Blvd.
LA CA 90045
Attn: Marc Denton

Art Center College of Design
1700 Lida Street
Pasadena CA 91103
Attn: Richard Koshalek, President

Rutgers University Foundation
7 College Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

In this article: