For Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, there was no massive bolt of lightning or an “aha” moment when the two were put together as a team at Ogilvy & Mather by the legendary Hal Riney in 1980.
“I walked in the first day, and the first thing Riney says is that Jeff and I are going to be working on this thing called Billy Ball. And that was it,” recalled Silverstein.
“I don’t know why [Riney put us together]. Not a clue,” added Goodby.
Yet from that simple moment, Riney unwittingly created a duo that has endured for decades, led breakthrough work for brands at the agency they founded with Andy Berlin, Goodby Berlin & Silverstein (which became Goodby Silverstein & Partners in 1994 when Berlin left), and are considered two pillars of West Coast creative leadership that includes the recently-retired Lee Clow and Dan Wieden.
To honor their work and leadership, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is honoring Goodby and Silverstein with this year’s Lion of St. Mark, the annual award that recognizes creative achievement and service to the industry and has included the likes of Sir John Hegarty, Wieden, Clow, Bob Greenberg and David Droga. Last year, Piyush and Prasoon Pandey of India received the prestigious award.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” Goodby told Adweek. “The people that you’re in the company of is impressive and you hope that’s what people would think of you.”
“We never had the giant client … we never had an Apple or Nike, and we watched Dan (Wieden) and Lee (Clow),” added Silverstein. “They’re gods, created great work and are my heroes. But we’ve always been this underdog, scrappy, bizarre, small firm.”
While on the surface, Silverstein’s observation may ring true to a point, the fact is that the agency, and Goodby and Silverstein in particular, have carved out decades of consistently interesting and compelling work without relying on a signature style.
“Even back in the 1980s, I thought it was important to do things differently every time so that people never saw the same thing twice,” noted Goodby. “Clients come to you and say ‘give us one of those,’ and it’s never as good the second time.”
When looking at the range of their output, there is no real thread other than a sincere desire to create work that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.
“I think that we try very hard to approach people at their very best and give them credit for being intelligent, having a sense of humor and a whole life around them,” said Goodby.
“I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously,” added Silverstein. “But we seriously want to do a good job.”
Indeed, looking at the body of the agency’s work (including its first-ever Cannes Lions winner for the Mill Valley Film Festival in 1986) is a creative buffet with surprises around every corner, whether it was a three-second ad of someone screaming for Sega (way ahead of its time when it launched), the Budweiser lizards, the ETrade chimp, or a slew of interesting work for longtime clients Adobe, Comcast and BMW.
More recently, the agency’s Super Bowl work for PepsiCo in three separate ads (for Doritos, Bubly and the flagship brand Pepsi) not only kept the agency busy but was also an example of accessible brand creative that honored the audience’s sensibilities.
However, it was GS&P’s turn for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993 that put the agency squarely on the creative map. “Got Milk?” was not only an awards darling but impacted the world in a way no one could have ever expected.