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'Oscar' Night for State's Ad Firms : It takes stealth to win the top prize.

March 24, 1989|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

An ad for Honda that poked fun at the super-secret stealth bomber flew off Thursday night with the West Coast's most prestigious advertising award.

American Honda Motor Co.'s print ad, which compared the design of a Honda subcompact to that of the highly sophisticated stealth bomber, won the top prize at the 23rd annual Belding Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel. The competition--which received 1,750 entries--is regarded as the West Coast equivalent of New York's top ad awards, the Clios. It is limited to agencies with offices in Southern California.

The agency that created the Honda ads, Rubin Postaer & Associates, won six major awards in the competition. Meanwhile, the Venice ad firm Chiat/Day won four major awards. Three ad agencies--and one free-lance duo--won three awards each. In Los Angeles, the Shalek Agency and BBDO/Los Angeles won three awards, as did Franklin & Associates of San Diego.

Also, a Los Angeles-area free-lance team of a copywriter and art director walked off with more awards than most of the region's biggest ad firms. The team includes copywriter Marc Deschenes and art director Preuit Holland. The company Deschenes owns goes by the same name as its phone number, 213-827-9695 Associates. "I created that name," explained Deschenes, "to get attention at ad award shows."

But the big winner was the ad firm Rubin Postaer. The agency's Honda ad--the first print ad to win the top prize in eight years--shows a Honda CRX Si alongside a full-sized stealth model that the agency says it designed from available Northrop sketches. The copy in the Honda ad says: "Shrouded in secrecy for years, the stealth bomber will soon be introduced to the public. For the record, we introduced ours first. The CRX Si."

"I feel like the guy who threw his own surprise party," said Larry Postaer, in an interview several days before the ceremony. Postaer, executive vice president and creative director of Rubin Postaer, was chairman of the judging committee of this year's Belding Awards. Judges, however, cannot vote for their own agencies in any categories.

"We sometimes wonder if the introduction of the stealth was influenced by our commercial," Postaer said. The campaign, which also included television ads, began to appear weeks before Northrop officially unveiled the stealth to the public.

Big Night for Agency

A Northrop spokesman said the Honda campaign did not affect the timing of the stealth introduction. "But we did get a good chuckle out of it," said Tony Cantafio, vice president of public relations at Northrop.

For Rubin Postear--which has since donated its giant, $200,000 stealth model to the Strategic Air Command Museum in Rapid City, S.D.--it was one of the biggest nights in the 2-year-old agency's short existence. "The Belding awards have made and broken several agencies in this town," Postaer said. "Only time will tell what it will do to us."

One agency that has built its reputation on winning Beldings is Chiat/Day. This year, Chiat/Day entered 186 advertisements in the competition--nearly three times that of any other agency.

While Chiat/Day did collect a respectable four prizes this year, for the second year in a row it did not pull in the competition's top prize. Until last year, when the ad firm Della Femina, McNamee WCRS won for a "Joe Isuzu" spot, Chiat/Day had won the grand prize four years in a row.

"Chiat/Day used to stand head and tail above everyone else," said Sandra Inbody-Brick, who is president of the ad firm Inbody-Brick & Co. and who organized this year's Belding Awards ceremony. "We have more people doing better advertising in Los Angeles."

Nancy G. Shalek, president of the Shalek Agency, said the results could signal an end to the creative dominance of Chiat/Day in the Los Angeles market. "Jay Chiat drove the entire Los Angeles ad market to do better," Shalek said. "But right now, I perceive that Jay Chiat's priorities are other than running the most creative ad agency in town. He wants to have a major, international ad agency. And that is entirely different."

But Bob Wolf, president of Chiat/Day's Los Angeles office, sees it a little differently. "We don't want to be the most creative ad agency in town. We want to be the most creative agency in the world," said Wolf, who was highly complimentary of the prize-winning Honda spot. "It's not winning the grand prize that matters, but doing terrific work day in and day out for all of our clients."

Shalek's agency won several awards for its offbeat print ads for surf wear manufacturer Gotcha Sportswear. The ads, which feature photos of people who are clearly not surfers, jokingly warn: "If you don't surf, don't start."

Shalek also won an award for a TV commercial for the popular game show "Jeopardy." In the ad, a scientist holds up two sealed jars--one with what looks like a large brain and one with a small brain. The scientist explains that the brains belong to identical twin brothers--but that only one of the brothers regularly watched "Jeopardy." He holds up the jar with the larger brain. "Coincidence?" he asks. "We don't think so."

Many of the Los Angeles area's largest ad firms were entirely shut out in the competition. "When you don't win any, it spurs you on to do better work," said J. Craig Mathiesen, chairman of this year's Beldings and president of the Los Angeles office of Ketchum Advertising, which won one award in the competition for a billboard ad it created for Bear Mountain. "If you don't take risks," said Mathiesen, "you don't win Beldings."

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