For the past three years the facial hair of one of advertising’s creative luminaries has dispensed thoughtful bits of ad wisdom, criticism and witticism on the Twitter feed @leeclowsbeard. With gems like "We have nothing to fear but fearful clients" and "We sell stuff, get over it" sounding just like something TBWA creative leader Lee Clow would say—despite the fact he’s publicly stated tweeting is not his thing—the source of this hirsute insight has largely remained a mystery. Until now.
In anticipation of the June 12 release of leeclowsbeard, a book version of the popular feed, the man behind the beard has been revealed as Jason Fox, an enterprising Dallas-based freelance copywriter.
Fox says he started the feed as an experiment in 2009 when Twitter was starting to gain traction. Having been an early adopter of the microblogging service, Fox knew that having something interesting to say was key, so instead of putting out his own views he opted to co-opt the voice of a known ad figure. When deciding whose mouth to put words in, he said it was between Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and Lee Clow. Alex Bogusky already had a fake Twitter account in his honor at the time.
"I didn’t know much about Dan’s personality and all I knew about Jeff was that he has a sweet ponytail. But Lee’s got a really good vibe, different from your East Coast mad man," says Fox, adding that Lee’s beard won over Goodby’s ponytail because he had a sense of what his voice would sound like. It was a move that’s earned him over 26,000 followers, including TBWA chief creative officer Rob Schwartz.
Oddly, when Schwartz stumbled upon the feed and then made Clow aware of it, both men were so struck by how much the tweets actually sounded like things Lee would say, they thought it must have been someone close to him.
"I started monitoring it for two reasons: because I was curious, and to protect the reputation of the agency. But this intense speculation grew. Everyone developed these theories on who it was, like his former partners or current employees," Schwartz says. "Everyone’s expectation was that it was someone very close to Lee and it was going to be a big surprise." Then, out of the blue, Schwartz received a direct message from the beard, and it was a surprise, though not the one he’d expected.
Fox recalls the tweet he sent said: "Does Lee know what his beard is doing behind his back?" Schwartz replied to Fox that Lee did, in fact, know his beard’s online dealings, and that he dug it and that they should meet. A few weeks later, Fox was in L.A. meeting the man he’d been impersonating on a daily basis, and the idea for the book was born.
"They were just talking and laughing and I just said, we should make a book," says Schwartz, after determining that Fox was not a sociopath, that is. (He isn’t—though he has the best bio you’ll ever read. Period.)
The book, a compendium of the over 780 tweets and designed by art director Bill Hornstein, is the first project out of TBWA’s new content innovation studio Let There Be Dragons, and is accompanied by an app with videos of Lee reading various tweets. Hold the phone to your mouth and let his beard do the talking. In keeping with the beard-centric persona of the Twitter feed, the design of the book and the app include well-cropped images of Clow’s trademark white whiskers.
For Fox, who was asked to keep his identity secret once the book plans were underway, being able to come clean is liberating. Also a relief: not having to keep a tweet-a-day pace. "I don’t think I’ll let it die, but don’t think I’ll keep it up at the pace I have been."