The Passing Of A Legend Hal Riney 1932-2008

March 26, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

I never had the privilege of meeting Hal Riney. But I think I would have liked him.

The iconic agency head, who helped make San Francisco one of the great advertising cities in America, died yesterday of cancer. He was 75.

From the time I started in the business nearly 20 years ago now, Hal Riney was an advertising fixture. His was one of those agencies where we all wanted to work. His, the creative we all wished we’d done. And at night when we turned on the TV, there was a pretty good chance we’d get to hear his smooth, relaxed voiceover selling wine coolers, cars, or President Reagan. The copywriter who got to do his own voiceovers.

For years, every time a commercial came on TV, I would quiz my wife about who was doing the voiceover. There were certain people, like the voices I worked with a lot, that she got really good at identifying. Some she never quite got. She never missed Hal Riney. And now, we all will.

His was the Banking billboard that inspired Richard Carpenter to write the song “We’ve Only Just Begun.” His was the campaign that turned Saturn into an automotive brand people really cared about and believed was different. His, the vision that sold wine coolers with two old men, one of whom never even spoke. No they weren’t great actors. No they weren’t the demographic for wine coolers. Yes, the creative was breakthrough and brilliant. Must have been. Hal Riney wrote 143 Bartles & Jaymes commercials in three years.

If you’re not old enough to remember Hal Riney’s voice, one spot can tell you all you need to know. In 1984, Hal voiced spots for Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign including the now classic spot, “Prouder, Stronger, Better” that begins “It’s Morning Again in America…” and proceeds to tell us why we’re all better off now than we were four years before.

Today, it is once again morning in America. And while it’s a sad morning for advertising, our world is definitely better off than we were before Hal Riney picked up a pen. Today, there are thousands of people in advertising who were influenced by his guidance. Great agencies like Goodby, Silverstein who were started by people who worked at Riney. Better ideas and stronger brands because he helped build them.

Quite a legacy for a guy who started in the mailroom.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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