top of page
  • Writer's pictureShweta Singh

How to Master Advertising: Lessons from Jeff Goodby & Rich Silverstein

“Advertising is everything, and everything is advertising.”

– Rich Silverstein

The world of advertising has some of the most creative and imaginative people who have reinvented the traditional definition of ‘advertising’ to encompass a more strategic and story-driven approach. Amongst the likes of legends David Ogilvy and Prasoon Pandey, in the west coast of US, in San Francisco there are two people who have further changed the world of advertising – Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein. Winners of multiple Cannes Lions and every other prestigious advertising award to exist, the duo have some of the most iconic works under their name such as the ‘got milk?’ campaign, the E*Trade chimpanzee’s, Doritos’ Lil Nas X Superbowl ad, Polaroid’s ‘See what develops’ to just name a few.

Image Source: Ad Week

Creators of pop-culture moments, Jeff and Rich’s advertisements are innovative and hilarious, they share a slice of life and make those 30 seconds worthwhile for both the client and the audience. With some sharp insights and practical lessons, this blog will explore the process of making an advertisement from the idea to its execution along with some case studies to help inspire your creative process.

Who is Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein?

Jeff and Rich are some of the longest standing players in the advertising industry. Jeff was a Harvard graduate who worked as a journalist before shifting to San Francisco and stumbling into the field of advertising where he worked as a junior copywriter at J. Walter Thompson. On the eastern coast was Rich, who was a Parsons School of Design graduate working as an art director for Rolling Stones and then later, Ogilvy & Mather where he met Jeff.

Together Jeff and Rich were put to work together on a baseball account by Hal Riney, another advertising icon whom both consider as their mentor. With Jeff’s words and Rich’s vision – the talents combined were truly combining two forces of nature that would go on to artistically disrupt the world of advertising. They founded GS&P – Goodby Silverstein and Partners in 1983 an advertising agency based in San Francisco.

Now that we’re familiar with Jeff and Rich, let’s get down to the basics – all the way back to the first stage of making an ad – finding the gazillion dollar idea!

How To Start with An Idea

Do you want to make something but don’t know where to start?

Are you waiting for the right idea to strike at the right moment?

How do you come up with an original idea?

These are some common questions we often encounter when starting off our careers. Whether you’re an artist, a businessman or working in any other job that stems from a strong idea – getting started can seem like the hardest part. It is also the part which decides whether your campaign will work or fail.

Do the market research

In 1993, the California Milk Processor Board faced a unique challenge: the sales of milk were on a decline despite the common knowledge that milk is healthy for you. Think of any milk advertisement, what do you notice as the basic idea common across all of them? Whether it’s Amul or Nestle you’ll notice that their ads mainly focus on either the health benefits of drinking milk or on its taste but in California Milk Processor Board’s case, the health route wasn’t leading into sales.

Like any client’s problem statement – Jeff and Rich had to find a new way to get consumers to re-engage with the product.

Here, data become extremely crucial as it helps to provide an insight you might have not thought of before. One of the most effect marketing research tools are focus group interviews where a group of people (usually from the target audience) are selected and asked about their opinions and perceptions about the product. Jon Steel, the strategist on the milk campaign held focus groups to understand the general public’s perception about milk and its use. One of the women being interview stated that: the only time she noticed milk was when she ran out of it. It struck Steel that the fact that milk is such an ordinary and common part of a household that the only time one would think about it, is when it’s absent. There, that was the insight that led to creation of one of the greatest ad campaigns to ever run.

Further, another one of Jeff and Rich’s project was for Nike where the brand was extending into selling skateboards. In this case, the rather niche market segment required an equally niche insight. But to find that insight you may not necessarily go around interviewing hundreds of strangers, sometimes good ideas can come from anywhere, even from those around you. Two employees working at GS&P were skaters who shared how they were often treated poorly (getting tickets from police, general annoyance from public) for simply enjoying a sport like anyone else. The bad reputation of skateboarding was unwarranted which led to the insight – if skaters are like any other athletes who spend their time and effort practising the sport, why do they receive a different treatment? This insight gave rise to the idea – what if every athlete, be it a runner or a tennis player were given the same treatment as skateboarders? The resulting campaign was a series hilarious and surrealist adverts that successfully resonated with millions of those in the skateboarding community, a concept which Jeff and Rich term as creating ‘mass intimacy’.

Mass intimacy: The feeling of creating individual resonance amongst millions of people.

Listen and Observe

As we’ve established from above case studies, to be a good advertiser you must also be a good problem-solver. However, along with data insights, what strengthens an idea is creativity. Rich best advice to better hone your craft in creativity is to ‘observe the world around you’. Seeing the world as your creative source opens up a portal of unique and idiosyncratic observations that may not necessarily dawn upon you from scrolling through your phone.

We’ve all heard that we should be good listeners and that’s not just a prerequisite for being a good person but also a great artist — seek out inspiration in places you don’t go to, in people you haven’t met and experiences you haven’t had.

How To Execute Your Idea

You’ve landed the idea which solves the problem of the clients as well as suffices your creative impulses but now, the greater task of executing that idea lies ahead of you. In this phase you must answer the ‘How’ to the ‘What’. In Jeff and Rich’s masterclass, the interdependence of the insight - the idea and its execution is illustrated in the form of a pyramid.

Image Source: Masterclass

In the early years of Jeff and Rich’s career, they did not have a lot of money or resources but they did have an abundance of passion for their work, which was more than enough to fuel their creativity.

‘Make something out of nothing.’

Let’s look at two specific case studies which prove that you don’t need big budgets to make award-winning work!

Mill Valley Film Festival: With no budget to make a commercial film for the film festival, Jeff and Rich had to get creative and resourceful. They did what us Indians commonly term - jugaad. But it wasn’t a scrappy, less-effort kind of a jugaad, it was more of a DIY - do it yourself kind of an approach. Instead of casting actors (whom they couldn’t afford), they casted real people to talk as if they knew everything about films. Jeff admits that it wasn’t the most professional looking film as they drove in the back of a truck to shoot b-rolls of the town but it was something that hadn’t been done yet. To even edit the film, they drove all the way down to Los Angeles to have someone do it for free.

The result? They bagged a Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival for this film, the first of many prestigious awards that were to come their way.

Chevy’s Fresh Mex: One of my favourite adverts from Jeff & Rich’s work has to be the one for Chevy Fresh Mex - a chain of restaurants that made their food completely fresh each day. Taking this novel insight that captured the brand’s essence, the duo came up with the idea to replicate the same ‘freshness’ but to execute it by making a new advertisement everyday - meaning it was shot, edited and distributed the very same day. On the next day, the same process would repeat with a new ad altogether.

For anyone who has ever created a piece of video content (let alone a whole advertisement) knows the amount of time and effort that goes behind the entire process of production, now multiply that with an extremely tight schedule and various extraneous variables, sounds crazy right? Well, Jeff and Rich love crazy ideas and Chevy’s Fresh Mex is just one of the many of their adverts that exhibit that.

How to Get Into Advertising

To step into the advertising industry, you do not necessarily need a degree in it - in fact Jeff and Rich advise against learning too much about the theoretical underpinnings as it can cause your understanding of good advertising to be deterred.

That being said, to land a job in advertising or any creative agency you cannot show up at an interview empty-handed. You need a portfolio. Remember, you’re just as much of a brand as are the clients you’re going to work for - along with your skills, your portfolio should also showcase your personality.

When Jeff was applying for jobs in various advertising agencies, he shares the most useful tip when creating portfolio that eventually landed him a job at J Walter Thompson.

Creating a portfolio

Whether you’re a writer, a cinematographer or a designer here are some ideas to help build your work portfolio:

  • Pick three campaigns you hate, write/shoot a new campaign for them.

  • Pick three campaigns you thought were really good, write/shoot advertisements for them.

  • Pick a company you like and invent three new products for them.

Make sure that elements such as grammar, the colour palette and the typeface are given just as much importance as the content in your portfolio.

Pitch yourself

The creative field is a highly competitive one - apart from being skilled, companies are looking to hire interesting people too. Don’t be afraid to express yourself, integrate things you love and are passionate about in your portfolio. From the clothes you wear to the way you greet, there are so many ways in which ‘you’ come across to others, so ensure that you present yourself in a way that aligns with what you value and believe in.

Some of Jeff & Rich’s Best Works

In the span of over 30 years of working in the industry, Jeff and Rich have created many iconic and memorable campaigns such as:

E*Trade: In the 90s, a 30 second spot on the Super Bowl would cost 2 million dollars, here’s how Jeff and Rich hilariously took this insight to promote a financial service

Lessons in HerStory: An app that uses digital innovation to celebrate women in our history books.

Tostitos: There are no rigid rules in advertising, from the medium you choose to advertise on to integrating social commentary, the horizons of advertisement have widened. For Tostitos, GS&P created a unique campaign that put breathalysers on each pack during Super Bowl (since it’s a heavy day or drinking). If the pack turned red, you would receive a code for uber ride from the bar to your home.

Polaroid, See What Develops: Taking pictures on a polaroid are always fun, they capture the moment instantaneously. In a series of ads with the tagline - See What Develops, Jeff and Rich created a series of rib-tickling ads

Advertising Tips and Advice from Jeff & Rich

  • Don’t copy, steal: When it comes to seeking inspiration or finding references for your ideas, become aware of everything around you. Dan Wieden wrote Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ tagline after he read something similar in a crime report about a murderer’s last words before being electrocuted - ‘Let’s do it.’ A slight tweak to the morbid origin story ended up created the most iconic taglines in the advertising history.

  • Be bold and experiment: Go big or go home, that’s essentially the approach Jeff and Rich have for their work. To be innovative you have to go against the grain, be a little crazy and most importantly, believe in yourself.

  • Ideas can come from anywhere: NBA’s ‘I love this game’ campaign by Jeff and Rich originated when someone from their team heard a fan say that line during one of the games - proving that ideas can come from anywhere (and anyone) you just have to be receptive to it.

  • Refine your craft: When it comes to writing especially, it is important to understand the language and its rules. Read more and write more too but also remember what David Ogilvy once advised Jeff: part of your job is to not do your job - living your life is as important as your job, because if you haven’t lived experiences, what will you write about?

  • Create things that matter: As an advertiser, your main job objective is to sell stuff. But in the process of doing that you can also make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel because Jeff puts it,

“You want to be remembered for things that are funny and beautiful. You don’t want to be remembered for numbers…If you are appreciating the things around you and communicating that to people, people will listen to you. They’ll care about what you say.”

Want to learn more? You can check out Jeff and Rich’s amazing series on Masterclass where they teach Advertising and Creativity along with sharing some valuable insights and lessons.


bottom of page