Larry Postaer

Postaer may have sold your family its first color TV. He wrote the back-cover catalog copy for Sears’ Silvertone TV as a Chicago copywriter in the ’60s, using it as his calling card to join Stern, Walters & Simmons. In 1976, he joined Needham Harper & Steers, working on Dial, Wrigley’s and Bud Light, and in 1981 moved to its L.A. office. He is now ecd and director of creative services at what is now called RPA, the Honda and Acura shop that he and Gerry Rubin have run since 1986. Postaer, 65, says he’s most proud of “the consistency of Honda’s advertising—I’ll take that as my crowning feat.” -Q: What is the greatest difference between working for Honda in 1971 versus today?

A: I used to be able to smoke in presentations, and I can’t anymore.

I’m surprised the Japanese fell for the nonsmoking trend.

As a matter of fact, the president of American Honda many years ago quit smoking one day and never gained a pound and never smoked again—pretty impressive. I say that about smoking because for me it was a tension reliever, and presentations are always somewhat tense, and that was a major adjustment for me personally. That’s somewhat symptomatic of the cleansing of the business, in a way.

Are you a fan of the automobile industry?

No. Honestly, I’m not a car guy. And people at Honda know that, too. We’ve got car guys and car women all over this building, and obviously they [know it], too. I don’t have to be a car guy. I feel that I’m kind of representing the average guy out there. My dad drove cabs, trucks and buses for a living. And I guarantee that he wouldn’t know a carburetor from a percolator. So the copy that crosses my desk, I read it like I’m a guy who’s out looking for a car.

What are the pluses and minuses of having an account as long as you’ve had Honda?

The client has been remarkably stable. The benefit of a long-term account is only there because the clients have been there all the time. That’s an obvious advantage as far as knowing each other, understanding each other’s abilities and taste levels and sensitivities. The downside is the risk of all of us going stale, perhaps like a marriage going stale. In the creative department, I try to accomplish a fresh approach to assignments on a model-year basis by rotating people on specific car assignments.

Since you began in advertising in 1961, what do regard as the golden years?

Most people attribute the sea change to [Doyle Dane Bernbach’s] original Volkswagen campaign. Suddenly, the creative department mattered; ad agencies weren’t a dime a dozen anymore—we were at least two for a quarter. If you look at a copy of Collier’s from 1957, say, most of the ads are absolute crap. Then along came “Think small.” Or “Lemon.” And it was really eye-popping at the time. So suddenly it was, “Let’s do something creative.” And of course, like everybody else, I tried to get a job at DDB. I wrote the same letter I’ve often seen cross my desk now. “I’ve long admired your work. … I loved your Honda work,” and so on. I wrote that same letter to Bill Bernbach a long time ago.

Did you get the job?

No, I didn’t. But I didn’t get laughed at. So it worked out.

How did you get to advertising after studying journalism at University of Missouri?

It was just a fluke of things not going the way I wanted them to, in the sense of running into a lot of nepotism at the Chicago newspapers, even for intern jobs. I just couldn’t get that little toe in the door. And I got down in Mizzou, where you took courses both in news and city desk and running a newspaper, and selling ads and writing ads, literally being given lists of accounts in town and being told to go out and service them. I started to like that side of the world more than the news side.

You must get a kick out of Bud Light now outselling Bud.

I was there at its birth [at Needham in Chicago from 1976-81]. I literally wrote the copy on the front of the label: “Born of natural ingredients …” I was there on the day August Busch chose from among three brews of samples of Bud Light when he told the brewmaster, “This is the one.” I remember he turned to the brewmaster and said, “You wrote down the formula, right?” They sent me out here [to L.A.] in 1981, and the decision on who got Bud Light was going to come in January of 1982. I asked Keith Reinhard, “If it goes our way, I sure want an airplane ticket for the party.” So I get a call. “We just got Bud Light, and the party’s tonight. Get on a plane.” I get on the plane and I realize I don’t even have a jacket. I’m in short sleeves. It’s like 80 out here. I hit Chicago, it’s 20 below. I immediately lost my voice trying to find a cab. I was freezing my ass off. I’ll never forget it. I made the party about 9:30 that night.

You’re structuring to pitch more national business. What are your rules for competing in that space? There’s a loyalty to Honda …

There’s also a compatibility factor on several levels. The people we have, in my department at least, are used to a certain type of advertising and M.O. and bringing in some crazed account that you know ahead of time is wacko—I’m not talking about wacko creative, but a wacko-run company. These videogame companies, for instance, would not be very compatible with how we operate here. There is still a groove you want your agency to be in. It has to do with taste and modus operandi. Gerry says, “Bad clients bring bad people.” And we don’t want bad clients. There are some out there.