Picture Perfect: In a year Dominated by digital mania, Classic storytelling Pushes Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to the top
It’s round two of casting for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ first campaign for Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream and the latest batch of earnest child actors has run through a dinner-table scene for the umpteenth time. The agency crew has been at it for hours. Art director Patrick Mullins and copywriter Jim LeMaitre are restless, tossing around a basketball while the kids emote.
The brand, known as Edy’s in the East, is probably best remembered for the dancing baby created by previous shop Goldberg Moser O’Neill.
Now Goodby, which won the $20-30 million account in July, wants to apply its signature style, including a clever storyline and its trademark, average-guy characters. This approach–nuanced, memorable, often hilarious advertising–has attracted enough major technology, telecommunications and financial-services business to garner Adweek agency of the year honors for the sixth time in nine years.
From its lone office in San Francisco, Goodby’s knack with consumers translated into an estimated 56 percent boost in billings last year–a handsome $617 million.
The year began on a high note: Online broker E*Trade handed Goodby its $120-150 million account without a review. Then the agency quietly doubled its business for SBC’s Pacific Bell brand to an estimated $200 million. The year ended with another coup: Goodby bested fellow roster shops Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis & Hal Riney, both in San Francisco, for creative duties on Hewlett-Packard’s new $200 million corporate branding account. In between, the agency won the $80-100 million Discover credit card business and a handful of other accounts, boosting revenue 35 percent to about $55 million.
The wins also took the sting out of the $30-40 million Nike loss. The company, after its two-year fling with Goodby, consolidated its advertising at longtime agency Wieden & Kennedy.
Part of Goodby’s success is its uncanny skill at casting. To craft characters that tap the hearts, wallets and funny bones of consumers and clients alike, the right actors are key. “You have to say no a lot in casting to get it right,” says Rich Silverstein, co-chairman and creative director. “If you don’t see it in the casting tape, you won’t get it in the ad.”
Jeff Goodby, also creative director and co-chairman, is the director on the Dreyer’s campaign, which plays off the familiar indignities that parents unwittingly hoist on their kids. As the latest group of youngsters leaves, Goodby and his crew pore over tapes of the young actors stuck at the boring kids’ table during a family feast while the adults enjoy themselves in the other room. The agency staff is discussing whether the kids’ table should include one older child as planned or consist only of young children, which Goodby thinks is funnier.
Suddenly, they turn their attention to the tape of a lanky preteen with spiky hair whom they’d hardly noticed before. In a segment in which the moping kids are supposed to get excited at the entrance of the family dog, the boy’s studied coolness briefly evaporates. “Watch him,” says Goodby. “He forgets for a minute that he’s this cynical skateboarder dude, and he acts like a little kid again. Then it’s gone; he’s trying to be cool again.” Everyone in the room knows a kid like that, caught in an awkward in-between stage. The group decides to go with the original plan and use the skateboarder as the older kid at the kids’ table. The decision energizes them.
“We are classic storytellers,” Silverstein says. “We look for timeless storytelling, honest scripts and players that reflect that script. Our work is not about odd characters. I hate those goofy, cliched jokesters. There is no depth to those characters; they’re just a first-level joke, like a bad sitcom,” he says.
A perfect example of a 1999 Goodbyesque character is the hardworking schlub of a stockbroker in an E*Trade ad, with his waterbed and ’70s haircut. He comically personifies the campaign’s core query:
“If your stockbroker is so great, how come he still has to work?”
For such creative work to thrive at a $600 million agency, it requires expert behind-the-scenes client handling. Enter agency president Colin Probert. Urbane in a well-suited British way, he is a useful salve for the rough edges and outspoken quirks of agency life. Trusted by clients and agency managers alike, he says he gives clients “someone to call who they can count on” who knows how the agency works.
“Not too long ago, it was hard to imagine clients of the scale of SBC, Discover and HP coming to this agency,” Probert admits. But in the current overheated economy, large, mainstream companies are eager to reach out to consumers, he says, “which brings them to us.”
Goodby and Silverstein believe their singular strength is the range of their award-winning reel–from Budweiser’s wisecracking lizards to HP’s inspirational “Invent” spots to the latest silly “Got milk?” ad. “We will never be a one-client agency,” Silverstein insists. “No one does the breadth of work day in and day out, year in and year out that we do. No one. And it’s exhausting.”
Indeed. Long after everyone else in the Santa Monica, Calif., warehouse district has left for the night, Jeff Goodby and his crew remain, patiently studying young auditioners, searching for the right expressions, the funniest body language, the most interesting faces.
In this digital, integrated, high-tech age, some things never change.
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