It’s with a very heavy heart that I pass on some news that landed in my inbox overnight – the passing of Curvin O’Rielly on Friday night, US time, after a brief but tenacious battle with cancer.
Curvin worked in the original Mad Men era of advertising in the US. He only recently started a blog called Ace of Admen, and you can read a few of his advertising stories there. Sadly, he never got the opportunity to share more of these stories online. They were inevitably entertaining and there were always lessons to be learned.
I first met Curvin in 2010, at the Swedish Car Day event hosted by Charles River Saab in Boston. He was fresh off an appearance at the 2010 Saab Owners Convention, where he wowed the crowd with his thoughts on Saab’s advertising.
Saab was still a newly-independent company at the time. There was still a lot of enthusiasm and positivity surrounding the company, although there were concerns starting to emerge, especially in the United States. The Saab 9-5 had been launched just a few months prior, but only as an Aero, at what was considered to be a very high price, and without an all-important sunroof being available.
Added to that was a print advertising campaign that got everyone talking, but for all the wrong reasons. The ad was called She is not for you. The ad caused more than just a ripple of concern in the Saab community and I can remember having a long, occasionally emotional conversation about it with one of the Saab USA guys in Boston that weekend I was there.
In his appearance at the Saab Owners Convention in 2010, just a few weeks earlier, Curvin presented his treatise on what Saab’s advertising should be. He had a good well of experience to draw on, too, as he had worked on Saab’s advertising accounts back when the legendary ‘Uncle’ Bob Sinclair took over the reigns at Saab USA in the late 1970s.
I can’t say much about his SOC2010 presentation except to say that he knocked people’s socks off. Anyone I spoke to about the event talked about the presentation.
The best thing I can do is point you to some of the slides from that presentation at Uncle Bob’s Rules.
That site was set up by Chip Lamb, Curvin and his colleague, Willy Hopkins, as part of what became a quiet, ongoing campaign to take on Saab’s advertising work. It wasn’t successful, of course, but it was insightful and you can see why the motivational text from the presentation got people so fired up, especially at a time like 2010 where Saab’s US advertising was seen to be lacking so much substance.
Curvin was pleased to be able to share more detail about his proposal with Victor Muller and Jan-Ake Jonsson at SOC. His offer to them was to set up a small, boutique advertising agency using his expertise and some hand-picked people to work solely on Saab’s US advertising. His offer was politely declined but he persisted and spent some time in Boston taking me and a few others through the campaign as well.
Would it have changed things for Saab? I don’t know.
Saab’s core problem in the US was a poor initial Saab 9-5 offering, delays to the 9-4x and of course, the finance problems back in Sweden. I don’t know if a different ad campaign in the US, where margins are so small, would have helped. In any case, it’d merely be an academic exercise to debate that today.
I next met Curvin at the New York Auto Show in April, 2011. It was my first (and as things turned out, my last) motor show as a Saab employee and Saab were showing the PhoeniX concept car in the United States for the first time. Curvin sat in the car and absolutely loved it.
I wrote on Inside Saab at the time that he offered both his credit card and his checkbook, but wasn’t allowed to take PhoeniX home. It was a generous offer, especially when you consider that PhoeniX had done what concept cars do sometimes – it played up, closing its electronic doors leaving him stuck inside the car for 5 minutes or so while we scrambled to find the remote control and open the doors again.
A few days later I had a wonderful lunch with Curvin at a real New York diner and that’s how I’ll remember Curvin the most. He was an ad man, a Saab fan and a generous guy. To me, he’ll always be a New Yorker. He loved the city and we had a great time in that short time together in The Big Apple.
Curvin O’Rielly was one of the most contemporary and connected of citizens, one who knew his stuff, wasn’t afraid to tell you his story but was also kind enough to listen and learn from yours as well.
I’m ever so pleased that I got to meet him, am saddened immensely by has passing and can only wish that I got to know him more.