Ad Legend Hal Riney Dies at 75


Hal Riney, who wrote "It's morning again in America," brought a distinctly Western voice to the New York-dominated advertising industry, was nominated for an Academy Award and led passengers of an airliner on a daring escape from terrorists, died Monday of cancer at home in San Francisco. He was 75.

Riney created (and often narrated in his own resonant voice) advertising campaigns for Bartles & Jaymes, Gallo, Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve beer, Perrier waters and Saturn automobiles, among others. His elegant, wry style stood in stark contrast to the jangling commercial world of the latter 20th century. The company he founded, Hal Riney & Partners, earned its reputation on the basis of his distinctive sense of humor and reserve. (Visit's Creative page to view Hal Riney's most famous commercials.)

David Ogilvy once proclaimed Riney "far better than I ever was at my best, and he may be better than any other person I have known in this business."

Riney held fast to his roots throughout his life, never leaving the West Coast, which served as a source of inspiration for his body of work. "People who grew up around Manhattan tend to look at the world through the eyes of a New York City person," he said in 1986. "People who grow up in Des Moines probably have a broader picture of our country."

Riney's work celebrated an optimistic, perhaps even romantic vision of America. It was a land populated with people of simpler values, small town Fourth of July parades and rocking chairs on shady porches. There was little tolerance for fakery. It was this vision he mined in his 1984 campaign for President Ronald Reagan, as well as his advertising for beer and automobiles. 

"The beauty and whimsy, the cleverness and the suggestion seem to be gone from everything," Riney said in 1982. "And it's been replaced by two people holding up a product they would never hold up; and talking about it in a way no one ever talked; and being astonished, pleased, delighted or surprised about characteristics of a product which in real life would actually rate no more than a grunt, at best." 

Riney's persona catapulted his San Francisco agency to national, and even international acclaim. His style was widely copied, and his disciples went on to found 28 other advertising companies. 

Hal Patrick Riney was born July 17, 1932, in Seattle, and grew up in Longview, Wash., after his parents split when he was 5. He attended the University of Washington, graduating in 1954 with a degree in art. He served as a writer and public relations officer for the U.S. Army in Italy, then returned to take a job in the mailroom at the San Francisco office of BBDO. He was soon promoted to art director.  

"My job was to make logos bigger," Riney recalled. "Once the logo got big enough, they would have a meeting. Then I would move the logo up or down, or to the right or to the left. Finally, I would be told to make the headline bigger. Because compared to the logo, it was now too small." 

Nevertheless, he became the agency's creative director nine years later. It was at BBDO that he hired composer Paul Williams in the mid-1960s to create a musical theme for San Francisco's Crocker National Bank. The resulting song, "We've Only Just Begun," went on to become a No. 1 hit, recorded by The Carpenters.

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