George Lois, visionary art director and advertising icon, has died at his family home in Manhattan, New York on Friday. He was 91.
Best known for his subversive covers for Esquire magazine and turning the supposed glitz and glamour of advertising images into a space for critical commentary and countercultures, Lois marked a shift in the world of advertising and opened it up to new possibilities.
He worked at many creative agencies from the beginning of his career in 1956 and soon after founded Papert Koenig Lois with two colleagues, Fred Papert and Julian Koenig. In the role of creative director, this was the first time in the history of advertising that an art director took on a leadership role.
It was rumored for a time that Mad Men’s main character, advertising mogul Don Draper, was loosely based on Lois. However, he himself denied the rumor, saying the show was a glamorous version of what the advertising world looked like in the 1960s.
Lois was also single-handedly responsible for the great success of MTV. The music channel, which launched in 1981, proved to be near shutdown after only a year of work.
Producing a campaign of famous commercials, Lois catapulted MTV into fame and gave the industry an early example of what could be interpreted as influencer marketing. Every rock star wanted to be part of the campaign, pushing the 24-hour music channel to fame and fortune.
Following roles at multiple creative agencies throughout his career, Lois and his son Luke Lois then founded Good Karma Creative, an advertising and marketing venture, which remains open.
Lois was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, among others, and won lifetime achievement awards from the Society of Publication Designers and the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Many of his Esquire covers became part of the permanent art collection at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008. He was also the author of several books about creativity and advertising during his lifetime.
George Lois was a legend in the world of advertising and a rule breaking art director, beginning his career in a post-war New York and shaping culture as people know it today.