Making simple cool, circa 1980

New York Times marketing columnist, Stuart Elliot recently wrote an article heralding “simplicity” as the new, new thing in Adland and popular culture in general. He cited numerous examples of modern marketers capitalizing on a trend to “get back to the basics” and to provide consumers with “simple solutions.” Somewhat wearily, trend spotter Marian Salzman added, “We envy the time we had just three TV channels to choose from.”


Reading this article I could not help but think of my father’s agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates and their decades-long, mostly marvelous campaign for Honda: “We make it Simple.” Later (and fittingly) RPA simplified the tagline to “Simplify.” And while the brand is not overtly using the copy now it informs everything they do. Sort of like “dependability” permeates Maytag.

Somewhat snarkily, I tweeted that Honda was touting simple before simple was trendy, linking Elliot’s story. Within minutes Stuart replied to my Tweet, claiming he’d written about the heritage of simplicity mentioning Honda but it had been edited for space. I responded (more sheepishly now) that I’d merely been looking after my father’s legacy and thanked him for the prompt reply. Author’s note: My father’s legacy does not need me watching it. But I had to tweet something.

A couple things:

First: How cool is it that I can comment on a piece in the New York Times and within seconds receive a reply from its author? I love that about our new world, which is contrary to Salzman’s blather about envying old timey media. Back then you wrote a “letter to the editor” and were most likely ignored. If you got in the paper it was after the fact, when people likely didn’t care about the story anymore, let alone remember it.

Second: Although Honda rightly deserves providence over “Simplicity” in terms of modern advertising campaigns, I’m pretty certain the world has always come across as scary and complicated and that getting back to the basics provided relief. Just ask the Amish.

“Wish Pa would get a Honda.”

Matthew Broderick plays hooky in his CR-V

Jerry Seinfeld stops at nothing for an Acura NSX

Having semi-retired from the agency he helped start, my father, Larry Postaer would be the first to acknowledge he had nothing to do with RPA’s new Super Bowl commercials for Honda and Acura. However, both spots do prove he left his company in excellent creative hands.

In my admittedly biased opinion, these two spots are legitimate homeruns. I like just about everything about them. And what little I don’t won’t matter because America will adore them unreservedly. They should. Both films are well conceived, finely written and expertly produced. Most importantly, they are a ton of fun. The Twitterverse will be abuzz on Sunday, to say nothing of water coolers on Monday.

The commercial for Honda features Matthew Broderick reprising his iconic role from the 80’s film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In it, Broderick plays hooky from work, choosing instead to gallivant around town in his CR-V. I doubt it will make the 60-second edit on Sunday but here’s hoping they keep the bit with the Walrus.

Jumping ahead to the 90’s, the Acura spot has comedian Jerry Seinfeld trying his neurotic best to be the first owner of Acura’s badass new sports car, the NSX. Only to be thwarted by none other than Jay Leno! Both comics are terrific. In particular, Mr. Seinfeld, who has more funny lines than anything we’ve seen from him in years.

Though the commercials play upon fun memories from bygone eras, they both come off as completely modern. If the CR-V vehicle seems a tad arbitrary not so the NSX. While Seinfeld is known for his passion for Porsche, it is hardly a stretch to envision him craving the NSX. It’s a wicked looking driving machine.

Over the years, I’ve grown cautious about pimping anything pertaining to my own agency or that of a family member. But given this is the Superbowl and my Pops has only just retired you’ll forgive a boy for being proud.

Good texture on creation of the Broderick spot.

Fierce independents…

Dad just visited with my family in Chicago. A short trip, he was in route to Detroit for a business meeting. In addition to seeing his three granddaughters, we took him to Millennium Park –a Chicago sight he had not yet seen. His visit was short but everyone had a good time.

Because his longtime and current place of residence is Los Angeles, many people mistakenly believe my father is from California. In fact, he hails from the south side of Chicago. He grew up in Our Town, beginning his copywriting career working on the Sears catalogue and later for the now-defunct advertising agency, Stern Walters & Simmons. In the seventies, he took a job at Needham Harper & Steers, which, as many of you know, became DDB Needham and now DDB. In the early eighties he moved west becoming Needham LA’s lead creative. When they merged with Doyle Dane Bernbach a conflict arose between two major car accounts, Honda and Volkswagen. Reluctant to give up Honda, dad and his partner (Gerry) acquired the LA office renaming it Rubin Postaer & Associates. That was almost thirty years ago.

Much to my delight –and I’m sure his- dad has not retired from the agency he co-founded, now known as RPA. Up until recently, my father served as the agency’s Chief Creative Officer. He still serves in an emeritus fashion.

While at my home I mentioned a story I’d just seen on Agency Spy regarding the promotion of folks from RPA’s creative department. My dad’s reaction: “What’s Agency Spy?”

I love my dad.

His lack of knowledge about that website and others like it is less from ignorance than calculated indifference. Here is the story: Many years ago Larry was called by an advertising journalist from the Wall Street Journal. He was asked about a Buick commercial that seemingly aped one of his agency’s better Honda spots. Dad made a joke about it: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flatulence.” A dust-up ensued in the press, which culminated in my father being chastised by Honda. The Japanese aren’t much for braggadocio.

Since then, my father has demurred from the trade press –both for himself and his agency. So much so, he even took his name out of the agency’s name! Instead of chasing publicity like so many of us (any ink is good ink, right?), dad reminds me of another old saying: the tall nail gets pounded first.

Right sized…

Nothing makes the old man happier than Honda’s continuous leadership status in the automotive world, yet RPA takes no credit. Nor do they seek it. He and his agency are rightfully appreciative of their long-term relationship, almost singular in its rarity, and will not compromise it for anything, especially the transient accolades of our business. Which is a big reason why, despite being perhaps the largest privately held advertising agency left in America, one seldom hears about RPA, good or bad. Think about agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky or BBDO and people like Martin Sorrel and Howard Draft. What a difference, right?

Not lost on me is the fact that I am anything but a wallflower when it comes to this business or my own business. And Lord knows the flames that attracted me have burned me. Recently, I wrote about this topic. Whether I ever learn my lesson or not, let me state, unequivocally, that such vainglory does not come from my father!

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