The headline read “Hal Riney Dead at 75.” That’s a poor homage to one of the best advertising writers and thinkers to come down the pike in the Twentieth Century. For those of us who have followed the ad game and know great talent when we see it, I am instead reminded of what John Adams said on his death bed about Thomas Jefferson: “Jefferson Lives!”
Riney wasn’t just an ad writer, he was a story-teller of rare talent from the old school. And for story-telling through advertising, the old school was better than the new school. Believe me.
Among Riney’s most noteworthy efforts was the campaign for President Reagan’s 1984 re-election,”It’s Morning Again in America.” What is remarkable about how that effort for Reagan still resonates was that it was a positive ad message. As politics has been driven deep into the gutter of negative advertising and talk-radio partisan blather, it is a testament to Riney that he wrote the only positive political ads in modern times that are still remembered and revered for their effectiveness.
Riney often voiced his ads, as well as wrote them. And he had a talent for naming products. Among these was Gallo’s Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. In creating the characters “Frank and Ed,” Riney not only named the product, but wrote its 143 commercials over a period of three years â€” an industry record.
Hal Riney & Partners was also chosen to introduce the Saturn brand for General Motors. The ads that launched Saturn in those early years two decades ago are still held up as a benchmark in auto advertising, as well as ad story-telling. Ads such as one in which a young woman is given the keys to her first car after signing the papers, and another in which line workers building a car all look at the picture of a school teacher who wrote and wanted them to see who they were making the car for, live on in the memory of auto executives trying to find the right voice for their brand. Indeed, many believe that the brand never really regained its advertising footing after Riney retired from the business. The surviving agency, Publicis: Hal Riney lost the Saturn account several years ago.
Beyond his writing talent, Riney was one of the classiest individuals in the ad industry. He was, and is, his own brand. There are a lot of ad writers today who refer to an approach they want to take for a brand or product as “Rineyesque.”
It’s a pity so few can deliver on that.
Farewell to a great talent.