George Louis

“Keep hustling ’til you die”

Part of my research into the advertising greats. Typed up quickly from listening to Youtube videos. Part history, part insight.

George Louis was drawing all the time from the time he was 3/4 years old. Son of a Greek immigrant, he grew up in the Bronx, New York.

The Son of a Greek immigrant, he grew up in the Bronx, New York. He took design, history of art courses and academic courses the Highschool of Music and Art.

Here, the Bauhaus movement inspired him.

He was told to create a rectangle and did nothing. His teacher was furious. Then he handed his empty piece of paper – it was a rectangle.

Every design problem has this opportunity to create something unique.

George’s answer must be unique, surprising and thrilling.

Inspiration came from Paul Rand (“wunderking”), himself part of what was known as the New York School of Design.

After Highschool of music and art he went to an institute (I miss the name) he realised wasn’t as good as his previous school. He met Hershel Levitt who introduced him to an art director who did promotion and advertising.

George lost his exemption from the army, got drafted into the Korean War.

He returned and wanted to work at CBS. He got in, but it wasn’t the big time advertising he wanted.

In 53/54, he was warned of a world of philistines and hacks, but pushed on regardless. Got a job at an awful place, but eventually went on to work with great advertisers;

Herbel Bowen, Bill Bernbach, Bob Gauge.

Bill Bernbach showed him that if the art director can conceive advertising with the writer, then the results were better.

He started an agency called Papert Koenig Lois (PKL) with two writers. Had immediate success.

After a few years, two more agencies came out of George’s.

By mid-60s, George realised he had triggered a creative revolution in advertising. The Golden Age; the 60s and 70s.

He hates Mad Men. The producers had never heard of him. He told them about his book George, Be Careful. His story about growing up in New York, becoming a creative icon and constantly being told to be careful.

His “Big Idea” is a concept that takes the unique virtues of a product and sears it into people’s minds and forces an extraordinary sales increase.

In other words, True Creativity.

True Creativity can overcome any problem.

Creativity isn’t a creative act. It’s an act of discovery (my edit: this is the same as life-force in general).

Combining high art, pop art and intellectually understanding the world around you is essential for doing creative work.

This understanding and ethos of trying to understand everything; try to understand the problem, then the answer will be there. An act of discovery.

Learn all there is to learn about something, then you’ll be ready to come up with the answer.

The method: be interested in everything. The organic part is to have a passion for everything around you.


Until then, the second creative revolution won’t come.

The internet is at our fingertips, and no one knows shit.

Confessions of an Ad Man by Olgivy: every word in there is wrong (says George). Ogilvy tried to hire him. George refused. Too many rules in your method, said George.

The best design advice he’s ever heard is his own.

To him, magazine covers today are terrible. Full of famous people and people who want to be famous. The creativity level is shocking. Everyone’s doing the same thing.

He doesn’t understand what half the ads on TV are talking about these days. Unambitious. A wasteland of creativity.

Every idea (your Big Idea) should make everyone you show it to go “Holy Shit” and make them take one step back.

One idea should be a knock-on idea. It gives other people ideas.

Designers have less freedom today than they did in the 60s.

His Esquire covers are still celebrated, even now. He believes you need someone who understands the culture of the people you are designing for.

The digital age has made design worse. Even the great magazines (Vanity Fair etc) are jammed with information.

Even the great magazines (Vanity Fair etc) are jammed with information. The lack of white space.

The internet has loads of information, not enough design vitality. Web sites should express something.

Magazines are more viscerally exciting (“you lay it on your knees, it’s like a lap dance”).

Covers that make you go “holy shit”.

It’s not what people think they want. You’re meant to be leading the culture. Telling people what you think is dynamic and thought provoking. Do it with passion, and you’ll get an audience.

He still meets people today who tell him the Esquire covers changed their lives. THEY CAN REMEMBER WHERE THEY WERE WHEN THEY SAW THE COVER!

He calls himself a cultural provocateur.

He’s not impressed when ad agencies only talk about scientific research.

For him, it’s about creativity.

Big Ideas, not designs.

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