Randall Rothenberg: Where The Suckers Moon


The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign

5 stars (out of 5).

This splendid book was an early Christmas gift from Brian Nienhaus and my friends at Grey|San Francisco. Randall Rothenberg was an embedded reporter before the phrase was coined, chronicling in detail the brief but intense relationship between Subaru of America and their advertising agency, Wieden & Kennedy.

Despite the subtitle, telling the story of W&K's "What to Drive" campaign is only half the point of the book, serving as the framework around which Rothenberg delivers a detailed history of the advertising industry and the entrepreneurial personalities who built it. Grey Advertising, for example, was founded by two men named Larry Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, who believed that de-emphasizing their ethnic roots would enable them to grow beyond the bounds of the New York garment district where, unlike most everywhere else, Jewish agencies could be employed.

He tells the colorful story of Subaru of America, founded by Philaelphia furniture-man Harvey Lamm, whose original goal was to import a tiny, ugly car from Japan, and sell the 71 inch wheelbase, 360cc, 25 horsepower vehicle -- the feds classified it as a covered motorcycle rather than a car, since it weighed in at under 1,000 pounds -- for $1,297. Zero to fifty in 37.5 seconds, but 66 miles to the gallon!

And he traces the development of Fuji Heavy Industries, which started out in the world as the manufacturer of the Zero fighter, deployed with such deadly effect in World War II. Broken up by the allied authorities after the war, five of the constituent companies were eventually permitted to reunite; their corporate symbol, five small stars linked to a bigger star, represents the constellation we call the Pleiades -- in Japanese, "Subaru", which means "unite".

Did you know that Subaru is properly pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable -- soo-BAR-oo -- and that an advertising exec, Paula Green, believing it sounded too foreign for the American market, took it upon herself to change the pronunciation, leading a room full of dealers to chant "One, two, soo-ba-ROO"?

Read this rich, detailed, and informative book, and you'll learn this and much more. It will totally hook you on -- or turn you off of -- an incredible industry. As for me, I'm lovin' it.

Brian, Betsy, Yumi -- thanks for the education!

[GET IT]

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Note: My wife drives a Subaru Forester; we're on our second one (it's a lease, that's why -- the things run forever), and they've been totally delightful cars. Comfortable, great in the snow (thanks to "The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive"), completely reliable ("Inexpensive, and built to stay that way") -- and that horizontally-opposed engine, the brainchild of Fuji engineer "Endless" Momose, really kicks!

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