Vale Curvin O’Rielly

I know Jason has already notified the Saab community here on SU about Curvin’s passing.

I hope it’s OK that I also share some of my memories of the great ad man. – SW

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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.

The most intelligent car ever built was his baby. That campaign, along with improved product from Sweden during the 1980s, ushered in the golden era to come at Saab later that decade.

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.

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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.

JasonPowell
Member
4 years 1 month ago

He sure like you Steven and thanks for expanding on this, he was a great man.

Marque
Member
4 years 1 month ago

Thank you Swade for your profound insight with facts and stories about the man. We can’t really bear losing this kind of valuable fellows and icons. I trust he had a good life and got back from the mighty Saab at least as much as he had given!
Let him rest in peace.

nichell
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Vale rest in peace.
Here in the US, we never saw any exciting ads(which are a form of publicity) that would make Saab owners proud and want to go out and buy another Saab.

74StingSaab
Member
4 years 1 month ago

Swade, Ive been on SU long enough to know your words are indeed sincere. You spoke of Curvin and his work often and his impact is immeasurable. I wish his family peace and nothing but sweet memories. The USA sure needed some bold ads in the last 4 years, I wish he could have made it happen for SAAB.

Tim OBrien
Member
4 years 1 month ago

That is sad news indeed. i had some email contact with Curvin that in fact i think you facilitated Swade and he was all that you have said, a real gentleman, very shocked and saddened by that news

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