Hal Riney, the San Francisco advertising man whose iconic and memorable work helped establish the city as a leading creative center for the industry, died last month. He was 75.
Whether his client was an automobile manufacturer, a wine cooler or the committee to re-elect President Ronald Reagan, no one could put as graceful a spin on Americana as could Hal Riney. He made likable, engaging advertising in a career of nearly 50 years.
Some would say he is best remembered for creating the brand and image of General Motors' Saturn automobile division. Others would argue he is equally famous for the codgers Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes, who sing the praises of the Gallo wine cooler that bore their names. That campaign had such a profound affect on me that I still go around saying "thank you for your support."
Followers of political advertising - not one of my favorite subjects - would say that his best work came in 1984, when he wrote soft-textured, 60-second montages of Americana to make people comfortable about re-electing Reagan. The ads - titled "It's Morning Again in America" - assured the public it would be folly to return to the days before Reagan's tenure. Okay, so nobody's career is perfect!
George Raine of the San Francisco Chronicle said Riney's advertising campaigns had a unique and relaxed Western feeling to them and stood in contrast to so much in a New York-dominated industry. Importantly, Riney's ads prompted marketers to pay attention to the San Francisco ad scene. He narrated many of them himself, and his gravelly voice is as memorable as the products he promoted. His work stands out among lots of, shall we say lessor, advertising created in the '80s.
Riney's proteges, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who started with Hal Riney & Partners, left in the spring of 1983 to establish what is today one of the country's top agencies, and they in turn encourage the next generation of San Francisco creative advertising people. In fact, Riney's disciples went on to found no fewer than 28 advertising agencies. Not too shabby.
Yes, Hal Riney was an advertising legend, and one of the guys responsible for shifting the equilibrium of the U.S. ad agency business further to the west. In case you're wondering, he is a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame, inducted in 2001.