While Volkwagen searches for yet another agency, Honda stays parked at RPA…for 30 years!

August 21, 2009

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Vintage advertising from Honda and RPA

Considerable numbers of you logged on to read my column about the Volkswagen advertising review. Your enthusiasm for this story prompted me to write more on the subject, this time with a personal twist.

The following is a tale of two car companies and two advertising agencies, all intertwined. The first pair we’ve already discussed: Volkswagen & Doyle Dane Bernbach. Both entities owe a lot to each other, namely the most famous advertising in the world, game changing work, advertising that gave new meaning to the word creative. In my previous post, I displayed the “Lemon” print ad that started it all. Many more iconic pieces followed. The rest is history –coffee table book history.

Honda and Rubin Postaer & Associates are the other two companies up for discussion… and this is where it gets personal. As most of you know, the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Rubin Postaer & Associates, Larry Postaer is my father. How he started his agency (with partner Gerry Rubin) has much to do with the history of DDB, Volkswagen and Honda advertising. But I’m skipping ahead…

In the late 1970s my father was creative director at Needham Harper & Steers in Chicago. There he worked for the legendary ad man, Keith Reinhard on the McDonald’s account among others. In 1981, Keith asked Larry and Gerry to run Needham’s Los Angeles office, Honda being its main client. Excitedly, they accepted.

The next five years were a boon to both agency and client. Like VW in the 60s, the fuel efficient Civic and Accord offered great relief during a period of soaring gas prices and great economic hardship. (Sound familiar?) “We make it Simple” became more than a tag line for Honda it was a philosophy.

Then, in 1986, BBDO acquired DDB and Needham forming Omnicom. For a period the new company went by the name, DDB Needham. (I still have the stationary.) Not surprisingly, things got sticky. Volkswagen was DDB’s fabled car account. Though rising in stature (thanks in part to my father and his partner’s efforts), Honda was considered not in the same league as VW and thus jettisoned by the newly formed network.

Larry and Gerry had other ideas. Not only was Honda an anchor for the LA office; the duo considered it the better car and client. They brokered a deal with Omnicom to take over the LA office, making it their own and allowing them to keep Honda. Rubin Postaer & Associates was born.

Honda respected the two Americans and agreed to stay put. The Japanese are men of integrity, honorable. In fact, if you recall, at that time the Japanese way of doing business (stoic and methodical) intimidated many American businesses. But not American consumers. RPA/Honda’s mantra “Simplify” resonated then, as it does now, where it continues to inform the Honda brand and all of its communications.

Thirty years have passed and the agency/client bond still holds. If anything, it’s gotten stronger. Both companies have grown exponentially, by offering reputably great cars via consistently focused advertising. During this time the client has never put the agency in review. RPA hasn’t wavered in its commitment to Honda either. Honoring this remarkable relationship is part of the reason RPA has stayed private all these years.

Thirty years. How is that possible? The only industry more volatile than advertising is automotive! One clue: Honda has had but 3 marketing directors since 1981, a miniscule number unheard of elsewhere in the mercurial auto industry. Likewise, other than shortening its name to RPA, the ad agency remains under the same management.

Honda and RPA share an amazing legacy, based on mutual respect and the trust both companies have in each other. Operating without fear, it’s easier for them to make right decisions. Keeping it “simple” means keeping it together. Food for thought as VW ponders its next agency…and we ponder them.

Author’s note: While I did check with my father on names and dates, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. It’s an amazing story. Hopefully, I got it right.

Son of Postaer, on Twitter

5 Responses to “While Volkwagen searches for yet another agency, Honda stays parked at RPA…for 30 years!”

  1. SRP said

    How odd…Adweek publishes this story same day as mine. It serves as an excellent prologue:
    http://www.adweek.com/aw/content_display/community/columns/other-columns/e3i8db76f379a25018ac16d81e150ba6313

  2. Brook Boley said

    The loyalty between RPA and Honda was based on a true partnership that is rarely seen these days.

    And I have to say, your father’s commitment to the creative process and his commitment to his creative department is why so many people have stuck by him over the years.

    I, however, left RPA and have yet to find a better Creative Director to work for.

  3. Bill Biderbost said

    As an art director working for your father prior to his time at Needham and even
    during his time there, I can say with certainty there was never a better, more supportive and street-smart Creative Director to work for. I won my first advertising award with him as the copywriter.
    In my opinion, the Japanese are about results over the”long haul.” (could they all be Capricorns?) The U.S. seems to value quarterly numbers. Honda loyalty and trust is well-placed, since RPA creative work sparkles year after year after year.

  4. Hula said

    You don’t mention the real TWO that kept Honda going in the beginning and until about 1994 (when the commercials started to suck). My DAD and his partner wrote the GREAT spots for Honda. Your dad never really had a clue but managed to take all the credit.

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