This year, TBWA/Chiat/Day celebrates its 50th anniversary, and all this week the agency has been marking the milestone with reverence, nostalgia and a little bit of mischief--much of it honoring the spirit of its legendary co-founder Jay Chiat.
Today, the agency debuted a manifesto revisiting its successes of the past while laying the groundwork for its future. It all started on April 1,1968, when agency founders Jay Chiat and Guy Day went against the grain by deciding to open a creative shop on the west coast (all the action at the time was in New York City). As the film cuts in scenes of famous work for Apple, Adidas, Gatorade, Skittles and more, a voiceover from Lee Clow, TBWA Worldwide global director of media arts and chairman of TBWA/Media Arts Lab, sets forth a bold directive: “Don’t do the right thing.”
We come to discover that the “right thing” refers to those moves that sound good at meetings, look fabulous on pie charts and settle churning stomachs. Channeling his former boss Chiat, Clow declares that "the right thing is good enough. Good enough is not enough...What are you supposed to do? Do the brave thing."
TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A. President Erin Riley and Chief Creative Officer Renato Fernandez say the agency’s 50th anniversary presented an opportunity for reflection. While TBWA has long-held the idea of “disruption” at its core, the manifesto digs further into what that idea means today. “When we talk about disruption, what’s important is that it’s led by an act of bravery,” Fernandez says.
“We’re at a place in our industry where playing it safe is just not enough,” adds Riley. “Our technology, media, behavior is changing so fast. We rely really heavily on data and insight, but we do believe, at some point you need to take a leap and follow your gut--that’s where bravery comes in.”
In a counterpoint to the seriousness, since Monday, the agency has been having fun with Google, which currently occupies Chiat/Day’s original Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Venice, home to the iconic “Giant Binoculars” artwork from Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
In social media and wild postings and with help from Gehry, TBWA asked Google for its binoculars back.
But the hoax turned out to be a fundraising effort for Turnaround Arts: California, the organization Gehry co-founded to help bring arts programs to underfunded schools.
With 50 years come plenty of memories, and TBWA/Chiat/Day N.Y. CEO Rob Schwartz also called upon Chiat alumni to provide some of their best ones, which the agency has been sharing on LinkedIn. There are stories of what would happen if you interrupted Chiat at a meeting, how the shop’s work-life ratio that led to the nickname Chiat/Day & Night and about how agency came into being following a Dodger game.
Arguably, the most amusing anecdote centered on when Chiat wouldn’t cave to a "bully" named Donald Trump. It was shared by Steve Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Geshtalti, who worked at Chiat from 1991 to 2000.
“When The Donald introduced Trump Airlines he wanted the ‘greatest’ agency and chose Chiat/Day,” he wrote. “Chiat produced some brilliant advertising for the Trump Shuttle.” Apparently, the ads were not to “Trump’s ‘taste,’ [so] he sent Jay a very nasty and threatening letter about the work and the agency--nicely typed on beautiful, gold embossed stationery. In uniquely Jay fashion, he replied with a handwritten note attached to Donald’s original letter that simply said:
I thought you should know that some lunatic has stolen your stationery.
Trump, not surprisingly, told the agency, "You're fired!" but the move was testament to Chiat’s steady leadership.
“Jay had a vision much bigger than keeping any one client happy, and he wasn’t going to let some bully push him around,” Goldman said. “But even more important, it was a message from Jay to the Chiat team, who toiled ‘day & night’ to live up to the agency’s mission, that he wouldn’t compromise.”