Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Last week a bomb went off in Santa Monica.

The Honda Motor Company announced they were putting their $700 million account up for review. And in doing so, possibly ending a 26-year relationship with their ad agency Rubin Postaer and Partners.

The relationship is actually longer. Since Honda had been with Gerry Rubin and Larry Postaer while they were steering the ship at Needham Harper & Steers.

I know this (and this dangerously dates me in this business) because I was a mailroom clerk at NH&S. It's where I got my start. The Honda/NH&S/RPA relationship has been the only constant I have known  in the last three decades of advertising.

I hate to use the word inspired, but watching the way the creative people on the 7th floor went about the business of doing great work for Honda lead me to a career in copywriting.

Bob Coburn was the senior writer on Honda. He might have been a Creative Director or Group Head or any such nonsense. But Bob never struck me as a guy who cared about titles. However, his senior status at the agency never stopped him from palling around with the mailroom clerks.

He'd come into our windowless stockroom, where my partner Jim and I were often opening and reading confidential memos. It could be argued that we knew more about the agency than anybody in  the walled off departments.

Bob would get a kick from our Wall of Shame, sophomoric shit we had written or clipped from magazines and pinned on a wall to amuse ourselves. This was way before the Internet and youtube videos.

One time he spotted a box of empty mailing tubes. He asked if he could have them as well as a ball of heavy string. A week later Bob came to the mailroom to show us his newest invention. He escorted us down to the parking garage and demonstrated how, when draped over a car, his portable contraption of mailing tubes and string could prevent dings or scratches from the careless swinging of a car door.

It was brilliant. And it was simple.
Like everything Bob, and the agency, did for Honda.

I also remember him telling me how they had just sold a double-page long copy ad for the Civic. He told me the 1500 words worth of copy were due in a month. A month! These days the copywriter would be given a day, two tops.

Bob would stew on it. Write down errant phrases. Maybe draw up an outline. But he would take his time. Because it would take time. And when the deadline arrived, Bob would have the copy written and the client wouldn't change a thing, mostly because there was nothing to change.

Am I guilty of nostalgia and painting an overly rosy picture?


But that kind of craftsmanship is rarely seen these days. And now, it appears, it is being joined by its close cousin, loyalty.


Bob said...

Never met Bob Coburn, but I certainly worshiped him from afar. (And from aclose, when I worked in Culver City). Used to blow up his copy from the award books so I could read every word.

Jerry Grant said...

Great read and wonderful insight into a time gone by. I too, started in the mail room and was always amazed at the guys who came after me who didn't read the confidential memos. They missed out in many ways....

dave trott said...

David Abbott used to say "Shit that arrives at the speed of light is still shit."