Why This Mad Man Just Got Back Into the Ad Business at Age 94

Larry Rinck comes full circle

Larry Rinck, a 94-year-old Mad Man who steered advertising for the famous S&H Green Stamps in the 1960s and '70s—has come out of retirement to show today's millennial whippersnappers how it's done. Sort of.

Rinck (seen above, in a 1965 headshot) recently took the role of chief inspiration officer at his son Peter's agency, Rinck Advertising, an independent shop with offices in Auburn, Maine, and Annapolis, Md. Though he doesn't punch a clock, the elder Rinck serves as an adviser, sharing his decades of wisdom with the staff on a regular basis.

"I am 'on call,' " he tells AdFreak. "For some reason, they find my stories of advertising in the 1960s inspirational or something."

Peter Rinck

Peter Rinck describes his father as a lifelong mentor whose insights and observations are always on target, and whose reminiscences provide essential context and a sense of continuity about the ad business for youthful and middle-aged employees.

Larry served as vp of advertising at the iconic Sperry & Hutchinson in New York (the company behind S&H Green Stamps) in the Mad Men era, overseeing a budget that would be worth $75 million in today's market. S&H was an immensely popular rewards program. After making purchases at supermarkets, gas stations and other retail outlets, consumers would receive the stamps, which could be redeemed various items in the S&H catalog.

Under Rinck's direction, S&H worked with New York agency Lintas-SSC&B. The company's mildly suggestive tagline, "The more you lick 'em, the more you'll like 'em," became known nationwide.

In honor of Larry, Rinck Advertising has also given its website a Mad Men makeover, including vintage clothes and hairdos for the staff, though one key element from the era is clearly missing—nobody's nursing a cocktail. "It's more sober," Larry says of the current era. "Mad Men was accurate. We were pretty lubricated."

AdFreak chatted with both Larry and Peter Rinck about their experience working together.

—Larry Rinck

Tell me about working at your son's agency.
I review their work and make comments on it, giving my opinion on what is smart and working and where I don't understand what the hell they are trying to do or say. However, at 94, I am not really the target market. The world has changed a lot, and it's hard to keep up. But I think they have a pretty good idea of the audience and what their clients want to accomplish.

What are the biggest changes since the Mad Men era?
People didn't change jobs as frequently. You were almost employed for life if you were any good at all. So, there was a lot of continuity on accounts and at the client. Media has changed so much. We had television, radio, print, direct mail and out of home. Today, this digital stuff is hard to keep track of. I wonder how the consumer keeps track of all the brands that are important to them and why they matter. It's much harder now.

How are the people different?
There were a lot of characters in the business then. Some well known, like Jerry Della Femina, a real Mad Man, and plenty that were not well known, believe me. I knew many of them, and plenty worked for our agency, SSC&B. The creative director on our account once drove his Harley-Davidson into the restaurant we were eating at, right up to the table. Got off and joined us. The kids find that stuff interesting.

To me, the biggest thing is there used to be more face-to-face meetings between agency and clients. Now, it's email and phone and Internet presentations. It works fine. It's just very different.

Are some things exactly the same?
Clients want results. In my day, it was simple: sales. We couldn't measure things then the way it's done now, but wanting results has never changed. And one other thing: I think you still have to like the people you work with. That matters a lot.

What's your No. 1 piece of advice for young people in the business today?
Patience. Things don't happen overnight, for your career, for your clients, for anything. Clients take time making decisions. Customers take time to buy. It's a fast world, but learn patience.

—Peter Rinck

Did your dad influenced your decision to get into the ad business?
He said to me once, "You should go into advertising." And my answer, as any good teenager would respond, "Nope. Never." I wanted to be a classical DJ. And I went to Butler University, where they had a radio station and a nightly classical show and became one almost instantly because I could pronounce Tchaikovsky. I interned at a local agency and got hired over Christmas break and never looked back.

What advice did your dad give you?
One common thread to his advice has been that you can compromise on a lot of things, but don't compromise your core values. Every couple of years, some scenario will come up where we might be asked to do something that feels, well, wrong. When this sort of thing does come up, we really want to address it right away. Because, for some reason, there has been an erosion of trust in the relationship. It's rare, but dad's advice and caution has served us well and our clients well.

Would you go back and work in the Mad Men era if you could?
I wasn't that far removed from it. In the early '80s, it was still pretty Mad Men, but just starting to change. By the end of the decade, it had changed forever. No more long lunches, "heading out for inspiration," that sort of thing. Dad knew so many of the greats—they wanted his account—that I would have loved to meet them as they were reinventing advertising. Having said that, I would also say that there has never been a time in the business as exciting as this.