Although we never met, I give Hal Riney full credit for getting me out of an ad agency and into the car business.
In 1989-90, I was learning the ad business as an audio producer and copywriter for a Harrisburg-based agency when the trade magazines noted that Hal Riney and Partners were picked to launch the new Saturn brand. His challenge was estimable, to tell the story of why an American car company could be different and build a small car people actually wanted.
In the eighties, Hal Riney had firmly established his agency as master storytellers, in evocative campaigns for Gallo, Perrier, the reelection of Ronald Reagan (“Morning in America,” “Bear in the Woods”) and many more blue-chip clients. Best of all, he had just what was Saturn was looking for: no automotive experience.
I liked everything I saw and heard about Saturn and its marketing. When the local dealership was under construction in Harrisburg, I checked it out for myself and it seemed to me it was all that. Real, no-pressure, no traditional automotive anything.
Riney’s warm, sincere narration spoke volumes about the product he pitched, and it’s important to note that he personally wrote most of what he voiced for Saturn Corp and so many others. Modest and confident in equal measure, underneath it all, the message of Saturn, as spoken by Hal, was direct: this is our last chance to save the American auto industry, and there’s one way to do it right.
Visually, Hal Riney and Partners’ message permeated the experience of working for the brand or its retailers, shopping for a car or owning one. The reality was more complicated, but everyone acted as if Saturn was created from the proverbial clean slate.
When the new Saturn of Harrisburg was ready to open, the radio commercials gave another dimension to Saturn’s (and Riney’s) authenticity with the singuarly unpretentious voice of its non-spokesperson “Bud.”
These radio spots had no music beds, no sound effects, no mellifluous announcing. Just a fact-based message from a plain-spoken guy, who wanted you to know that there was a new brand in town, called Saturn, and if you were going to have a brand, you ought to have a spokesperson — “Bud” was reluctantly offering that he could be that spokesperson if you wanted one, not that you needed one.
The voice belonged to Maxwell “Bud” Arnold, himself an advertising giant in San Francisco where Hal Riney and Partners made their home.
From his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, published online August 28, 2013:
Maxwell ‘Bud’ Arnold, adman extraordinaire, dies
By Joe Garofoli
Maxwell “Bud” Arnold was a different kind of advertising executive – a professionally trained writer equally comfortable creating campaigns for luxury brands like Domaine Chandon as he was crafting socially conscious campaigns opposing the Vietnam War or supporting Democrat John F. Kennedy for president or Republican Pete McCloskey for Congress…
He exuded an idealism that was born in his love for his country and expressed through a writer’s love of words and a social activist’s call for change. He was an engaging presence, whether he was sharing a glass of fine wine at his beloved French Club in San Francisco or creating goofy stories and cartoons for his grandchildren.
Mr. Arnold was born Feb. 18, 1919, in San Francisco, but grew up in Los Angeles and Minnesota. In 1942, he volunteered for the Navy, serving in North Africa and the Atlantic during World War II.
After the war, he returned to Stanford University where he studied under writer Wallace Stegner, who later became a lifelong friend. Mr. Arnold published short stories in Harper’s magazine and Stegner’s “Stanford Short Stories.”
By the early 1950s he had gravitated to advertising, beginning his career at Guild, Bascom and Bonfigli, a San Francisco firm. He became an early expert in the rapidly changing field of political advertising, becoming the firm’s principal scriptwriter for its handling of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. His storyboards and some of the groundbreaking ads reside in the Stanford archives.
In 1970, Mr. Arnold opened his own firm, Maxwell Arnold Agency, announcing in its mission statement that it would devote 20 percent of its resources to fighting war, racism and poverty.
His Palo Alto Online obituary further elaborated on his distinguished life and work:
One of the original Mad Men, “Bud” Arnold began his half-century-long career in the early 1950s, joining San Francisco’s Guild, Bascom and Bonfigli as a copywriter and eventually becoming a vice president and creative director. The West Coast agency helped lead the move away from traditional ads solemnly praising the product, and Arnold’s work was especially noted for its irreverent wit, clever story lines, and striking visuals. Arnold also became known as an expert in the growing field of political advertising and headed the creative team that produced GB&B?s groundbreaking ads for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. The enormous impact these had on future political commercials was perhaps the most singular achievement of his long career. His papers on the campaign can be accessed at the Stanford University library.
In 1965, GB&B merged with Madison Avenue’s Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, and Mr. Arnold became vice president and creative director in charge of DFS’s West Coast operations. In 1970 he left DFS to open the Maxwell Arnold Agency, with a mission statement dedicating 20 percent of the agency’s time, talent, and resources to fighting war, racism, waste, and poverty. His new agency’s pro bono productions included two of the most famous anti-Vietnam War ads, “Our President was Angry, So the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi was Destroyed” (print) and “Mother Bombs” (television). He helped beat Big Oil with his ads for California’s Proposition 20, the Coastal Zone Preservation Act, and did pro bono work for Ralph Nader’s consumer action movement and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, among many others. His efforts for social justice earned him a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP.
He also ran campaigns for progressive candidates for national and California state offices, notably U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey, in McCloskey’s original bid for Congress in 1967 — he beat Shirley Temple Black in an upset — and his presidential primary challenge of Richard Nixon in 1972. In search of a voice-over appropriate to the gritty antiwar, liberal Republican, he decided to skip the professional actors and use his own. His gravelly, Midwestern-inflected tones proved so compelling that soon he was signed up for other agencies’ ads, becoming the voice for Bank of the West and Saturn, among others. For several years Macy’s broadcast his reading of “The Night Before Christmas” at their animal adoption displays.
I did meet Bud — in 1999, as the sales manager at Saturn of Richmond, I hired him to reprise his role as the get-right-to-the-point spokesperson for the Used Cars from Saturn branded used car center that we opened.
Somewhere, packed carefully, are the spots he recorded for us. I’d love to find those cassettes and hear his voice again.
(photo credit: Arnold family, SFgate.com)