Following (way behind) in Ron’s footsteps on Surdyk’s

By Craig McNamara

Text © Craig McNamara; Ads and images © respective parties.

FOR ABOUT 20 YEARS, one of Bozell Minneapolis’ longest and likely most awarded clients was Surdyk’s Liquor Store. And like Ron Anderson, Surdyk’s association with the agency goes back to Bozell’s predecessor, Knox Reeves Advertising.

After the 1969 repeal of a liquor law that prohibited prices in advertising, Bill Surdyk, second-generation owner of this family business, hired Knox Reeves to help with its advertising. But they weren’t looking for bottle-heavy, price-heavy ads. Instead, they wanted to appeal to sophisticated shoppers as well as bargain hunters.

They came to the right place. And the right pair.

Together with writer Tom McElligott (later co-founder of Fallon McElligott Rice), Ron created a style that set the template for all the work that followed – simple, playful, and engaging, and standing out from competitors on the page and in the market.

Even after the agency merged with Bozell & Jacobs and its client list grew, Surdyk’s remained, compensating for its relatively low annual billing with a level of creative freedom that made it one the most coveted accounts by copywriters and art directors.

(How coveted? So much that, in 1989, one of Bozell’s largest Minneapolis competitors pitched – and won – the business, purely for its award-winning potential.)

By the time I got my opportunity on the account in 1985, I was following in the footsteps of not just Ron, but probably a dozen or more creative people who’d made their mark working on Surdyk’s. So I had my work cut out for me.

Luckily, I was paired with terrific art directors, including Jeff Terwilliger and Larry Jarvis, and together, we created a run of ads that furthered the Bozell/Surdyk’s tradition of creative, often award-winning ads – including a 1st place win for Retail Print in the 1987 Off-Premise Awards for Excellence in Distilled Spirits, Wine, and Beer Advertising (the award is engraved on a coaster, making it surely the most functional award ever).

Here, culled from my portfolio, are some of my ideas that aspired to a bit more than a good beer or wine pun (though I did my share of those, too).

My favorite of all my Surdyk’s ads – clever, graphic, engaging almost by definition (using a familiar optical illusion), and relevant to the message.

A pretty straightforward (if quirky) headline that gets its impact from x-ray visuals that do double-duty as photos of the owners.

A holiday “drink responsibly” message; the spot-color nose practically guaranteed us a win in that year’s Newspaper Advertising Bureau “Athena” Awards.

A good example of creating visual interest to draw the readers into the message; the tall, narrow ad size was ideal for this concept.

A big, blunt sales message which, years later, makes me wonder about the wisdom of putting “going out of business” into the headline (thankfully, it wasn’t misinterpreted).

A pretty clever configuration that suggests a Christmas tree as well as a corporate org chart. There’s fun in seeing how the gifts scale up as you ascend to the top.

Okay, a pun slipped through. But sometimes they’re irresistible.

Craig McNamara is a writer with a 35-year career in advertising. He has won a number of awards in the industry’s most respected competitions including Clio Awards, Communication Arts, The One Show/New York, The Show/ Minneapolis, and Print Magazine. His newest book is “Thinking Too Hard and Rethinking Too Much.” FACEBOOK


  1. Thank you, Susan. I was so fortunate to work at Bozell so early in my career — so many creative people to learn from, so many creative opportunities.


  2. Mr. McNamara I looove your post and your ads!!


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