Jay Chiat, the advertising executive whose firm created the drum-beating Energizer bunny and introduced Apple as the "computer for the rest of us," died of prostate cancer early Tuesday at his Venice beach home. He was 70.
Chiat was credited with making Los Angeles an advertising powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s with a new "West Coast style" of subtle logos and strong messages.
FOR THE RECORD
Chiat obituary--An obituary of Jay Chiat in Wednesday's California section said that the advertising agency Chiat/Day created the Energizer Bunny campaign. Actually, the Chicago office of DDB Needham Worldwide created the Energizer Bunny. Chiat/Day expanded on that idea, using the bunny to roam freely into other commercials.
In one of his firm's most famous campaigns, Chiat/Day emblazoned billboards in Los Angeles and 10 other cities during the 1984 Olympic Games with awe-inspiring pictures of famous athletes such as Carl Lewis, Joan Benoit and John McEnroe. The only sales pitch was oblique: just a small Nike swoosh in one corner.
Another Chiat/Day ad, one of the most studied in American marketing, unveiled the Apple Macintosh during the 1984 Super Bowl. The commercial featured a woman smashing through a giant image of Big Brother--but no picture of the new machine or description of its capabilities.
"You have an individual who was remarkably creative and had a unique way of establishing an identity for products," said David Stewart, a professor of marketing and dean of faculty at the Marshall School of Business at USC. "He was a definer of a particular style within the industry, a West Coast style with a strong personality At this moment, there is no one who is doing it as well."
Chiat's creativity, however, often conflicted with the realities of running his agency. Even in the notoriously volatile world of advertising, Chiat/Day stood out for its ability to alienate clients, many of whom left the firm. He also made poor business decisions, loading the agency with debt in a bid to broaden its reach.
By the time Chiat sold the agency in 1995 to Omnicom Group Inc., which merged the agency into its TBWA Advertising unit, Chiat/Day employed 850 people but was heavily encumbered and no longer working with Nike, Apple or American Express Co.
Chiat was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey, where he attended Rutgers University. A stint in the Air Force brought him to California, where he began as a copy writer for an agency in Orange County in the 1950s.
He joined forces with writer Guy Day in 1968, creating the agency that bears his name. Once there, Chiat discovered what might have been his greatest talent: leading.
"I'm the spiritual creative director," Chiat told The Times in 1985. "[I create] the right environment for creativity."