The gospel of creative vandalism, according to Jeff Goodby

Jeff Goodby of GS&P

Jeff Goodby, the co-founder and co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, bases his creative process in the tradition of “vandalism” – something he saw a lot of growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. His philosophy? Think differently, and make your client think differently too.

Goodby preached his creativity commandments to a crowd of creatives at the D&AD Festival earlier this week.

Take a different route to work every day...

...or, if you’re rich, “ask the person that’s driving you to take a different route”.

It’s all about seeing things differently, and experiencing things differently too: Goodby also advises having a right- or left-handed day occasionally, in which you attempt to do everything with your opposite hand.

Train yourself into a constant state of readiness

This is particularly important when it comes to tag lines, as Goodby learned from Dan Wieden. The story goes that Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ was inspired by Gary Gilmore – a convicted Utah murderer who was sentenced to death in the 1970s. His last words were “Let’s do it”.

“...and Dan just said, ‘That’s a great tagline!’" said Goodby, who himself scribbled down ‘Got Milk?’ on a poster board right before a meeting. It was only when he was in front of the client that he thought it might make for a decent line.

Research jokes

“One of my planners turned me onto this,” said Goodby. “If you have, like, a refrigerator account or something, then Google 'refrigerator jokes'.

While he doesn’t advise lifting the gags outright, the creative thinks of them as a simple, free device to use when your brain needs rewiring around an everyday object. Speaking of which...

Don’t turn down ‘boring’ accounts

Goodby primarily used his agency’s PR-generating work for Frito Lay as an example of how a ubiquitous, everyday product – such as the chip (or a crisp if you’re reading this east of the Atlantic) – can be used as a platform for something bigger.

“There was a time where all [crisp] ads were about the saltiness or the crunch,” he said. “That was what the brief was: 'They’re crunchy'. It was awful. But gradually, we’re starting to see the brief be more than just a product feature."

Doritos came into GS&P in 2015, for instance, with a “much bigger brief than salty or cheesy” – it wanted to support America’s LGBTQ+ community. The response was manufacturing limited-edition bags of rainbow chips.

“Working on simple brands that don’t have much to say can actually be a wonderful thing for you as a creative,” said Goody. “Don’t look down your nose at them."

Embrace your sense of naughty criminality

When Goodby was growing up, he was inspired by the vandalism he saw around him. Instead of being a scourge on his east coast landscape it was, he said, “funny and loud”, and always surprising.

“That’s what we should love about the things we do in advertising,” he said. “The feeling of being excited about what’s coming next.”

The sense of entertaining rebellion was encapsulated in the image of Goodby and his partner, Rich Silverstein, lying in coffins but continuing to work. Designed to promote a talk they were hosting, the line read: ‘What if they never die?’

“It was so much fun to watch people’s reactions to it,” he said. “To me it encapsulated a little bit about what’s fun about our business. And we’re very lucky to be working in this business. People ask what you do, and you say, ‘Well we tried to put the face of one guy on another guy’. Or, ‘We tried to make a duck talk to a turkey and figure out what language they’d speak’.”

Look for things to write about more than you actually write

This gem came from the lips of David Ogilvy. When Goodby was working at Ogilvy & Mather in San Francisco early on in his career, the Godfather himself walked in. The young copywriter plucked up the courage to walk into his office and introduce himself.

"We were talking for a while before he asked, “How many hours do you write each day?’" Goodby said. "And I panicked and said, “Oh...umm...10!” and he said, ‘You can’t possibly write for 10 hours.

“’You should write for two hours and the rest of the time you should be looking for things to write about’. He was the original vandal.”

Use the shortening CMO tenure to your advantage

“When I was working on a big car account my chief marketing officer got fired,” Goodby recalled. “He was very unhappy – he was moping around the house in his bathrobe.

“And I said, ‘What do you think you learned from this, man?' And he said, ‘You’d think I’d have learned to be careful, but I didn’t. I learned exactly the opposite – next time I get a job I’m going to really go for it, because I’m going to get fired anyway. I’m going to accomplish some shit.

“And that’s how you should feel every day. Go for it and do something great, because we’re all going to get fired by time eventually."

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