Hal Riney, a legendary San Francisco advertising executive whose best-known work included campaigns for Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, Saturn cars and the 1984 reelection of President Reagan, has died. He was 75.
Riney died of cancer Monday at his home in San Francisco, said Michelle Musburger, a spokeswoman for his former San Francisco ad agency, Publicis & Hal Riney.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, April 03, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Riney obituary: The obituary of advertising executive Hal Riney in Friday's California section said Riney commissioned "We've Only Just Begun" from songwriter Paul Williams for a Crocker Bank commercial. The song was written by Williams and Roger Nichols.
During a nearly 50-year career, Riney was known for his understated approach to advertising that used wry humor and appealed to consumers' emotions.
"So much advertising at the time and even now comes at you and almost makes you pull your head back," Paul Mimiaga, a senior copywriter at Publicis & Hal Riney, said Thursday. "He was a storyteller, and he would draw you in: Instead of moving back from the TV screen, you were actually compelled to move forward and follow the story."
Hall "Cap" Adams Jr., chairman and chief executive of the Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, told The Times in 1990: "The strength of Hal Riney is that he always does something unexpected. And his premise that you've got to be different to get noticed is right on the money."
At a time when a rival wine cooler maker was featuring muscle-bound guys and bikini-clad girls to market its product, Riney took a different approach to launch Bartles & Jaymes, E & J Gallo Winery's entry into the field in 1985.
The long-running series of folksy commercials featured two older men -- fictional growers Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes -- sitting on a front porch. Only Bartles did the talking, extolling the virtues of the wine cooler they had created.
The Riney-written commercials ended with the tag line, "And thank you for your support."
That wasn't the only time a Riney ad became part of popular culture.
To attract young customers to Crocker Bank in 1968, he developed a highly successful commercial showing a wedding and featuring a song he commissioned from Paul Williams: "We've Only Just Begun," which later became a hit recording by the Carpenters.
To introduce General Motors' new Saturn car division in 1990, Riney's commercials showcased the Saturn buying experience, which included no haggling over price and an emphasis on customer service, by focusing on the people who made and sold the cars and the customers who drove them.
The tag line: "A different kind of company. A different kind of car."
In 1993, Advertising Age named Hal Riney & Partners the agency of the year.
As a member of the "Tuesday Team," the group of top ad executives who worked on Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign, Riney was known for his work on the "It's morning again in America" spots that featured upbeat images of Americans going to work in factories, watching a parade, getting married.
As he did for hundreds of TV commercials produced by his own agency and for other agencies over the years, Riney himself provided the narration in his reassuring baritone.
Reagan biographer Lou Cannon told The Times this week that "the ads captured a moment in American history when Americans really did feel good about themselves and felt good about their president."
"I remember stopping at a cafe somewhere [at the time], and people were just stopping and watching the ad. They were lyrical. They really did hit the mark."
Faced with having to condense Reagan's national defense policy into 30 seconds, Riney, according to a 1988 Boston Globe article, "sat down in a bar and wrote the parable that became the best-known political ad of the year."
With a prowling bear in the woods symbolizing the Soviet Union, Riney says: "Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one really can be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear?"
"It's a brilliant ad," Cannon said, "It was almost surrealistic, and the actual bear they used is so menacing."
In Advertising Age's list of the top 100 advertising figures of the 20th century, Riney was ranked No. 30. And three of his campaigns appeared on the trade publication's list of the top 100 campaigns of the century: Saturn (No. 37), the Reagan reelection campaign (No. 43) and Bartles & Jaymes (No. 88).
Jeff Goodby of the San Francisco agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, who worked with Riney in the early '80s, told The Times on Thursday that Riney "was the first on the West Coast to be explicitly mining his Western roots: kind of an optimistic and understated approach to advertising that wasn't seen before."
And, he said, "there's an authenticity to the characters and places he used in Washington state, Oregon and Northern California, where he tended to shoot his things.
"I think he made advertising bigger than just New York City," Goodby said. "He made it include the rest of the country."