USC Honorary Degree: Nomination for Advertising's Late Jay Chiat
The central role and mission of the University of Southern California involves “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” In accordance to the role and mission of USC, an honorary degree is awarded annually during spring commencement to individuals. James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, notes “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” (117) A nomination for an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters should be considered for Morton Jay Chiat, former advertising guru, in respect to the reputation and goals presented by USC. The specifications of the criteria for an honorary degree are very much alive with the nomination of Jay Chiat though it comes a few years after his death in 2002. Chiat was such an extraordinary figure in the advertising industry that his candidacy for an honorary degree should still hold solid despite the loss to his battle with cancer. Much of what the field of advertising is today can be attributed to the unselfish acts and involvement from Chiat.
Chiat has undisputedly left an unforgettable mark within the advertising community and its respective clients with his sense of craftiness. In 1968, Chiat and Guy Day opened TBWA/Chiat/Day, one of the first advertising agencies in Los Angeles. Despite the trend of agencies being located in New York, Chiat proved that a successful agency could be placed in LA. In part his success can be defined as a distinction of craft with conceptions of expertise, technical skill, theoretical understanding and creativity. Craft is one of the categories used by Mike Martin to instreumentally measure profesional achievement. Chiat may not be a household name for most people, but his list of notable clients that includes Apple, Adidas, Nike, Energizer, and Taco Bell may familiarize most with his brilliant work. Clients continue to choose TBWA/Chiat/Day because of the creative masterminds who were brought up by Chiat himself. The ability to see an agency function outside of its comfort zone or East Coast region naturally set Chiat and his associates a part from competition. This movement has literally shifted the growth and cultivation to the numerous agencies residing in LA today.
Perhaps one of Chiat’s most notable moments was the introduction of the infamous “1984” Apple ad which aired for Super Bowl XVIII on January 1984. The commercial was designed to launch Apple’s then immature line Macintosh which showed a controversial scene, much like George Orwell’s book, with the tagline of how the year of 1984 would not be anything like the actual book. Famed director, Ridley Scott was hired to construct the ad which left an everlasting impression for the public. In 1998, TV Guide named the “1984” commercial as the number one pick on their list of “50 Greatest Commercials of All Time.” This exemplifies Martin’s category of compensation in which Chiat surpassed in the areas of not only recognition but also authority. Despite many corporate marketing authorities who were against airing the ad, Chiat stuck by his team and virtually set the precedent for future Super Bowl advertising events to come. Account manager on the 1984 commercial, Fred Goldberg said, “I had been with an advertising agency for 17 years at that time, but I used to say, and still do, that I joined Chiat/Day to get into advertising." This can be further explained by a quote from Chiat himself who said, “Taking risks gives me energy.” His career was highly driven by his passion for advertising. Shortly after his death, Apple released an ad with the slogan “Think Different” feature a candid Chiat. This served as a tribute to him for the outstanding contribution he has made to the industry. The “Think Different” tagline describes Chiat’s personality and work. In another quote by Chiat, he mentioned he is uncomfortable when he is comfortable simply suggesting that he is never satisfied with the status quo and makes room for improvements.
In accordance with the criteria for choosing an honorary degree, it is important “to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the national or world scene.” While Chiat excelled in the categories of craft and compensation, he was equally known for his morals and contributions to the community. Over the course of this past summer, I was personally involved with the Multicultural Advertising Training (MAT) Program which was founded by Chiat in 1992. The benevolence of Chiat led him to establish the MAT Program whose mission is to “encourage outstanding minority college students to enter the field of advertising by providing them with internships in agencies” in hopes of “increasing diversity in the advertising community by providing the industry with outstanding and promotable interns.” Chiat’s firm commitment to the community is further demonstrated with the founding of the Advertising Industry Emergency Fund whose “reason to exist is to lend a hand and help people get back on their feet again” for those specifically within the Advertising Industry and facing financial troubles or crises. Consideration for a USC honorary degree is also granted to individuals who have shown “exceptional acts of philanthropy.”
Many students at USC concentrate in Marketing’s Advertising and Promotion Strategy program in hopes of becoming a part of advertising's community and workforce. For example there are organizations such as the Association of Integrated Marketing on campus that would benefit from this candidate. If chosen, Chiat's words at commencement would be appropriate for USC students because he shares many experiences about breaking into the advertising industry and staying on top, a difficult feat. Notably, in 1989 Adweek awarded Chiat with the title “Agency of the Decade.” The task at hand may seem inappropriate considering Chiat’s passing in 2002, but his exuberant qualities as a businessman and philanthropist are exceptional in a manner that cannot be overlooked while considering honorary degrees. After all the USC Honorary Degree is awarded to indivuals who have“made outstanding contributions to the…communities of which they are a part.”
In opposition, others may feel Chiat is not a viable choice and the opportunity should be given to one who will actually be able to deliver a message at commencement. Though the important thing is to have a speaker at commencement, I feel that everyone can learn and listen to Chiat’s trials and tribulations in a way that is inspiring and enlightening. The audience will not face what Freedman described as a possible risks where “the recipient willl turn out… to have been ill-chosen.” Potential words of wisdom coming from Chiat will be tangible in the sense that those who listen will feel empowered to thrive in whatever career path they chose, not limited to advertising. It is especially important to note that any message spoken through Chiat will help to explain the present by putting it in perspective, as seen through the speaker’s spiritual, philosophical, social, political, and economic advice. For example, Chiat’s prior experience within his liftime can provide insight into the current events of the world, such as the shift towards a technological-savvy generation.
Nomination for Chiat comes appropriately for the field of advertising as he is already recognized in the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame, one of advertising’s highest honors. Chiat was inducted into the hall of fame for his personal achievement as measured through the standards of Martin. Much like an entrepreneur, Chiat brought new ideas to the table and implemented them successfully. It is only right to nominate Chiat in accordance with USC’s Code of Ethics which “is predicated on two main pillars: a commitment to discharging our obligations to others in a fair and honest manner, and a commitment to respecting the rights and dignity of all persons.” The presentation of Chiat as a viable candidate follows along with their “promise as an institution… who are authorized to speak on behalf of USC”, while “including especially the promises expressed and implied in our Role and Mission Statement.”
In a quote given by Chiat, he said “I have a very simplistic concept for evaluating risk. I first analyze the downside. What's the worst thing that can happen if the project or enterprise fails? How much money can be lost? Image destroyed? Careers shattered? Empires lost? And if the analysis isn't too grim, we proceed.” This exemplified his lack of fear to pursue his visions of advertising as a respectable force within the industry. While touring his agency, his former personal assistants noted that much of Jay Chiat lives on today. Perhaps she initially meant the physical agency itself, but many would probably agree that much of Chiat does live on today in the way that the advertising industry behaves today. For those resons, Chiat continues to play a prominient role within the field of advertising and is a considerably qualified candidate for the USC Honorary Degree. Chiat’s ability to “elevate the university in the eyes of the world” will give a lasting impression at commencement.