My 50 years in Advertising, Larry Postaer

In my father’s recently released memoir on his career in advertising, Pickett, Plunkett & Puckett he mentions a test he had to take in order to qualify for a job as copywriter on the Sears’s catalog. In the early sixties Sear’s Roebuck (and its iconic catalog) was literally the textbook for retailing in the United States. Called the “Wish book,” anything and everything could be found in the Sear’s catalog (even houses!) and it was a staple in every home, kind of the Amazon of its day.

Yet, the job was hardly glamorous and wasn’t supposed to be. Sears Roebuck was about as old school as it got: dress codes, pneumatic tubes, and a cafeteria.

All his pages detailing the inner workings of Sear’s marketing department are fascinating but, for me, it was the test he took that stands out. Anachronistic now, back in the day, psychological profiling was used at companies all over America to determine whether an applicant was the “right fit” for the job and company. Back then folks entered into a career hoping –nay expecting- to work at a given firm the rest of their lives. The companies’ wanted that too and so standardized tests, however futile, were developed to insure its likelihood.

The “Wish Book.” You know you want it!

My father singles out one question from the test: Would you rather write the play, star in the play, or sell tickets to the play? My father rightly guesses they are not looking for big creative egos at Sears and answers “sell the tickets.” However, like any writer, what he really would like to do is write the play. These days, I’m guessing that’s what every aspiring writer would like to do. Honestly, the way things are now, I’m betting quite a few young creatives would just assume star in at as well.

It’s easy making fun of this archaic test, so corny and out of touch. But the question is pretty damn interesting when you think about it, as I have. From day one copywriters have wrestled with their urges to be creative versus their mandate to sell. Even now the challenge is still a major aspect of the job. Whether one works at a conservative shop or some rogue boutique, all on staff struggle with it. The lame rejoinder “well, you gotta do both” is generally where everyone nets out. Sears had no such dilemma, which makes my father’s anecdote provocative nostalgia.

In the end my father writes he faired poorly on the test but somehow got the job anyway. As I said, the stories around this are fascinating and, like many others in the book, well worth reading. It’s available in paperback or on kindle, via Amazon.

The Sears Catalog stopped printing in 1993. Regardless, the company struggles to remain relevant.

Authors Note: This is an updated version of a previous post.

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