The Introvert, the Extrovert and the Shoes
by Larry Postaer
May 14, 2012

Creating advertising is a collaborative effort. There is always a team, a copywriter and an art director, and when the marriage is right their offspring can be beautiful.

Which, oddly enough, leads to the three really good ideas I've ever had.

First off, when Gerry and I were transferred to the L.A. office of Needham Harper back in '81, I was told I could bring a few people from Chicago to help me reorganize the creative department here. One I invited was a young art director named Gary Yoshida. Good idea No. 1.

Once here, it seemed a lot of the staff just weren't right for Honda. There was, however, one very reclusive copywriter whose light had been hidden under a bushel by my predecessor. I asked him to stay. His name was Bob Coburn. Good idea No. 2.

As things settled in, it occurred to me that Bob and Gary might make an interesting team. Good idea No. 3.

If you're somewhat new to RPA, regrettably you missed one of the quirkiest and most prolific creative duos in advertising history. Bob Coburn and Gary Yoshida. They were always referred to alphabetically-Bob and Gary-though there was no rank order to their prodigious talents. Both could draw and write. Both came up with killer ideas (or "eye-de-ahs" as Bob, a Virginian, used to call them) though in the 14 years they worked together here I never knew which of them thought up what.

But I did know how they worked: give 'em an assignment and get the hell out of their way.

They would hunker down in Gary's office. Blinds drawn. Lights off. Door closed. Until Gary got an early Mac with its eerie glow they essentially worked in the dark.

Bob and Gary were soft-spoken to an extreme. They'd remain behind that door for days and weeks, and unless Bob decided to blow off a little steam with his sax or his bagpipes (he was a full-blooded Scot), you never heard a peep. Gary played drums-which always seemed incongruous given his stoicism-but never at work.

Then came a day, always before a project was due, when Bob would stick his head in my doorway and quietly ask: "You wanna see some eye-de-ahs?"

Of course I did (as did the entire account staff pacing the halls at a distance).

Entering Gary's office I'd instinctively flip on the lights which, as with startled vampires, always caused temporary blindness for the two of them but did allow me to see what they had wrought.

There'd be a pile of roughs we'd spread out across the carpet. If the assignment had called for one TV spot, they'd have it nailed with a dozen concepts or more. Ditto print. Almost always, one was better than the next. They liked all of them and so gave me the onerous task of cutting the pile down to presentable size.

Their ideas were simple, graphic, Zen-like. Computer- generated tricks were just on the horizon, but they weren't much interested in them. They conjured up the most special of effects-the world's first Stealth bomber, an actor walking up an art-gallery wall, a Honda carving a giant hole in a highway-with one goal in mind: to shoot them live and for real with a camera (and Gary Paticoff's help).

They never took the easy way out. A supermarket client once told them to spend what was for him a bundle on a boffo brand commercial. For the same modest budget, they created 20 30-second gems the likes of which that industry had never seen.

They'd fight tooth and nail to trim body copy to one poignant phrase. Then turn around and conceive an ad with six full columns of brilliant copy. Whatever was right.

They hated meetings. But when pressed to get out of their matching work wear-black shirts, blue jeans, white K-Swiss Classics-and suit up, their quiet reasoned manner earned inordinate client confidence. And they always rewarded that trust with meticulously crafted and totally original advertising.

Professionally, they thought as one. Personally, wardrobe aside, they were chalk and cheese. Bob lunched with several of us; Gary sat in his office mastering his computer. Bob partook of whatever a location's nightlife offered; Gary ordered room service. Bob opened and closed our agency Christmas parties; Gary was a no-show. Weekends, Bob flew his own plane to Morro Bay; Gary maybe played those drums or painted. To my knowledge, in all the years they worked together, they never ever socialized.

Try though we did to dissuade them, they retired within months of each other in the mid-'90s and save for a few priceless letters from Bob early on, none of us have heard from either in years. In a way, they're still behind that door along with their legacy-a compass set for consistent creative excellence, most of all in the challenging automotive category.

And several years ago, two admirers, Joe Baratelli and David Smith, established the Coburn-Yoshida Award.

In an annual vote of their entire creative group, the coveted plaque-a pair of K-Swiss Classics affixed to a walnut slab-is given to the group's choice of the year's best eye-de-ah.