Reid Bell

President, RBA Advertising,TorontoAlthough there have been at least five writers on the newspaper campaigns for upscale menswear retailer Harry Rosen since the company placed its first eight ads in The Globe and Mail in 1961, many readers are convinced that Harry...

President, RBA Advertising,


Although there have been at least five writers on the newspaper campaigns for upscale menswear retailer Harry Rosen since the company placed its first eight ads in The Globe and Mail in 1961, many readers are convinced that Harry Rosen himself writes the copy, says Reid Bell.

‘A lot of people think Harry writes the ads and, technically, he does,’ Bell says.

‘Over the years, he knows exactly what to tell us to put into the ad,’ he says. ‘He’s just a dream client.’

Bell says the Harry Rosen campaigns have always been written in the first person, and adds although the structure has changed slightly from campaign to campaign, the attitude has not.

‘We attempt to have humor involved in all of our campaigns,’ he says.

‘At the same time, we have to make sure we aren’t doing things for the sake of being cute or provocative. We have to have the message in there as well.’

Bell has worked on the Harry Rosen account from the beginning, when he and Stanley Berkoff, then creative director at Young & Rubicam (Bell was y&r art director), did the ads freelance in return for suits.

Q. Why did you choose newspapers for this campaign?

A. It has always been my feeling that people will read good advertising. And we’ve never had any proof otherwise.

‘Our first ads gave people information. We told them how long their suit arm should be, what size cuff you should have, and so on. People die for information. They enjoy knowing a little bit about any product they’re going to buy.

With television and radio, in 30 seconds, the message is gone. We needed more time to give people the information. So we did it in print.

Q. Are newspapers underused for image advertising?

A. I think so, but I always have. I’m going to reveal my age now, but everywhere I worked, most young art directors would kill to be on tv. They didn’t understand print as well, they didn’t respect it as much as some of us do.

I’m not saying they’re wrong. I once worked with a writer who went out of his way to write radio – he said it was the `theatre of the mind’. He did a hell of a job because he knew the medium, he understood it and respected it.

You’re always going to get ‘nobody reads anymore.’ I’ve heard that since year one. And I disagree. We’ve always assumed we had an intelligent consumer who enjoyed provocative advertising, and we’ve atttempted to deliver that product.

Q. Excluding your own work, what have been some of the best examples of image building in newspapers?

A. I think that ibm are doing a good job at delivering their message to the public. They are telling people ‘we want you to call us.’ ibm are taking full advantage of the medium and using it properly to communicate to people what their deal is.

Q. What qualities do successful newspaper image campaigns have in common?

A. When you turn the page of your paper, the consumer can flip right by you unless you deliver the first selling proposition in the headline. If they can’t stop reading, it’s a good ad.

You also have to retain a look of some kind or you’ll confuse the consumer. Right now, we have several campaigns going for Harry – the look is different, but the attitude is the same and they complement each other. It just helps the consumer identify with us.

Q. What specific challenges does the medium present – what are its limitations?

A. Reproduction. There’s two types of newspaper reproduction these days – offset and letter press. Sometimes it’s hard to get the clarity you would like to have with letter press.

The Globe and Mail transmits to satellite presses across the country. Our ad could be dirty in the Ontario edition, but in Montreal, where it’s offset, it’s a much handsomer ad.

Q. Do you think technological innovations, such as a new four-color process or more flexible layouts, would convince more advertising agencies to use newspapers for image building?

A. It’s possible. Flexibility has never been a problem for us. I think the biggest problem is that there is no glamor to print in advertising agencies. To be stuck with a newspaper ad is considered to be almost as bad as having to wash the boss’s car.

Q. Why is it that image advertising in newspapers is more prevalent in Britain and the United States than in Canada?

A. I’m not sure, there may be more people in these countries who appreciate print there than here. I suspect, in some cases, that the people responsible for advertising in Canada are of an age where they grew up with the electronic media, and I think they feel more comfortable with it.

In all honesty, I don’t know if the average age of advertising people in Canada is younger than in the u.s. or Britain. It sounds logical, but it may not be true.

There’s also something about the American that believes in the newspaper more strongly than the Canadian does, and I’m not sure why that is. You get The New York Times and there’s some great image advertising in there. You don’t see a lot of it here.

I’m glad it doesn’t happen here a lot. It makes it much easier for us to stand out.

Q. From time to time it has been suggested that one of the main reasons a lot of creative directors don’t use newspapers for image advertising is because it’s harder to be creative in newspapers. What do you say to that?

A. The only answer I have is that Harry Rosen has done that.

Q. What trends do you see in image advertising?

A. I don’t see any major changes. I think the consumer is always going to be looking for interesting and provocative forms of advertising.