94-Year-Old Original 'Mad Man' Tells All

Christine Birkner
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
WHAT: Peter Rinck, CEO of Rinck Advertising, hired his father, Lawrence, who worked in advertising in New York in the 1960s, to be the agency's chief inspiration officer. 

SO WHAT: To celebrate the appointment, Rinck rebranded the agency's website with Mad Men-themed photos of the agency's staff.

NOW WHAT: Today's marketers and advertisers should take inspiration from 1960s ad men like Rinck: Results and repetition still matter, he says. 

When you think about the history of advertising and marketing, vignettes of 1960s New York City ad men straight out of the hit AMC show Mad Men usually spring to mind: boozy lunches and nights of debauchery interspersed with brilliant bursts of creativity. But these visions are only partially correct, and Lawrence Rinck would know. Rinck, 94, was an advertising executive at New York-based Sperry & Hutchinson Co., known as S&H Green Stamps, in the 1960s and ʼ70s. S&H Green Stamps were trading stamps, popular until the 1980s, which customers would receive at the checkout counters of department stores and other retailers and could then redeem for household products such as appliances and furniture in the S&H catalog. Rinck and his team were responsible for one of S&H’s famous taglines, “The more you lick ʼem, the more you’ll like ʼem.”  

As Rinck crafted advertising campaigns for S&H and, later, National Car in Minnesota, he inspired his son, Peter, to take up a career in advertising and open his own agency: Auburn, Maine-based Rinck Advertising, whose clients include Green Mountain Coffee, Dean Foods and Daily’s Cocktails. In October 2015, Peter was on the hunt to add fresh talent to the agency, so he turned to the most experienced advertising professional he knew: his dad. Larry was named the agency’s chief inspiration officer, and to celebrate the appointment, Rinck rebranded the agency’s website with Mad Men-themed photos of the agency’s staff, as well as Larry’s S&H Green Stamps headshot from 1965. In his role, Larry serves as a resource for employees and gives advice based on his years of industry experience

Marketing News caught up with father and son to discuss how advertising has changed, and stayed the same, since the 1960s, and how Larry continues to inspire the Rinck Advertising team. (Photos, below: Lawrence Rinck in 1965 and today.)

Q: What were some of the major changes you experienced in the advertising world over the course of your career? How did you adapt?

Lawrence Rinck: The biggest change is the change in media available. In the 1960s, it was TV and radio versus print. I switched to TV when it became available, but most of the time, [advertising] was local. We didn’t get involved in network ads until later on, and I enjoyed that part of it. There was an emotional quality in advertising at that point that you had to abide by. The most important word in advertising is results. 

The results could be increased sales, or increased awareness of your brand. Sometimes your brand is not wanted or needed by everybody, so you do the best you can.

Q: Are you a fan of t​he show Mad Men? How accurately does it depict the advertising world of the 1960s?

LR: Yeah, I watched the show, and I think it was a little bit exaggerated, to be honest. My clients and coworkers were much more reserved than they were. There was a big blackout that happened in New York, and I lived in New Jersey. The interesting thing was, when the blackout occurred, we found out that a lot of people at the agency had whiskey bottles at their desks. They pulled the bottles out during the blackout because they were stuck there for quite a while. We weren’t supposed to drink at lunch, but we discovered that you could smell gin on your breath, but not vodka, so we started drinking vodka. 

Q: Tell me about one of the best campaigns you worked on throughout your career. 

LR: One of the best ads we created was a full-page magazine ad, with heavy [paper] grain. At the center of the page was a single S&H Green Stamp. S&H Green Stamps were founded in 1896. The caption was, ‘What can you do with an S&H Green Stamp issued in 1896?’ and underneath the stamp it said, ‘Redeem it.’ [It showed that] the stamp was good after all of those years.                                                                                            

Q: Why did you decide to get back into the advertising game through your appointment as Rinck’s chief inspiration officer?

LR: I didn’t push Peter to get into advertising. He did it on his own, but he has been quite successful at it, so he gave me the [title] of chief inspiration officer. I don’t know if I’m inspiring anybody at his agency or not, but they’re on Facebook all the time, so I got to know the key players [through Facebook]. … One of the first things I did when Peter put me into this inspiration [role] was say, ‘Do I get a bonus?’ [Laughs.] He didn’t have an answer for that.

Q: What advice do you have for today’s marketers?

LR: Repetition is paramount in advertising. Somebody’s not always interested in what you have to say, and people don’t always need your products at certain points in time, but people remember slogans. They stick with them. 

The Rinck Advertising staff

Q: Why did you decide to hire your dad? What advice has he given you over the course of your advertising career, and how does he inspire the Rinck Advertising team now?

PETER RINCK: In a way, my dad has always been the Rinck in Rinck Advertising. When a small group of people and I started the agency, they voted to put my name on the door. That was great, but my dad has always been an inspiration to me. He worked at such a fascinating time in the business, and I wrote my first ad when I was six. He took me to one of those ‘take your kid to work’ days at S&H Green Stamps, and they took me to the art department​ and gave me a big piece of paper and I thought, this is so cool, this is awesome, this is so much fun. Like any good teenager, though, I rejected that. I wanted to be a classical DJ. I played the violin and was very interested in classical music, so I chose a college based on its orchestra and classical radio station. I was the only DJ who could pronounce Tchaikovsky, so I became the host of the nightly classical radio show for four years and worked at the local NPR station. I had a great professor who sparked my interest in advertising again and, sure enough, Dad was right. Dad inspired me all the way. Over my career, as I had the usual ups and downs, I always relied on his advice. Post 9/11, we opened our ad agency. His advice initially was, ‘I’m not sure this is the right time to be doing this.’ But he said, ‘If you’re going to do it, be fair, be transparent, and do great work.’ Those are the hallmarks of what he always did, and that’s what we try to bring to our clients.

Q: How has your dad’s appointment and Rinck Advertising’s new Mad Men-themed website helped the agency’s PR efforts? 

PR: We appointed Dad to the position because he’s always been there. When he visits the agency, he always talks to the employees. We’re instituting a Skype program so that some of the newer employees who haven’t had the opportunity to hear him tell these stories can hear him talk about what it was like in the old days and impart some of his humorous yet wise points of view on the business. He’s 94, and he’s always been the Rinck in Rinck Advertising, so we decided to add him to what we do, and do a Mad Men makeover of our website. The series just ended, but that was such a stylish time of the business, and it’s an analogue for what’s going on now. Now, with the rise of the Internet and social media and digital advertising platforms, it’s as an exciting a time as the advent of television or radio 50 years before that. Digital advertising platforms are so technologically remarkable, that it’s as exciting a time as the 1960s.  ​

This article was published in the January 2016 issue of Marketi​ng News.

Author Bio:

Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the features editor for the AMA. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org, and follow her on Twitter @ChristineBirkne.
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