On the Spot with Eric Silver

If you’ve ever fallen off the couch laughing at a commercial or recoiled in horror from the same, chances are the spot was created by Cliff Freeman and Partners. Remember the gerbils getting shot out of a canon for Outpost.com? Executive creative director Silver, 35, made his name at the New York shop with that 1998 campaign. He’s also worked at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners—for six days, leaving to write for The Late Show With David Letterman. That lasted three months. Other stints include Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., Chiat/Day in New York and FCB in San Francisco. —Interviewed by Kathleen Sampey

Q. What inspired you to get into advertising?
A. I was in law school, studying to be an attorney, which I’d wanted to be all my life. Two weeks into it, I realized that (a) I was horrible at it, and (b) it was boring. So I thought of advertising, because it seemed like a cool way to spend your day. I got the idea from watching thirtysomething.

Q. What was your first ad?
A. I put together a portfolio of mock ads, and it was terrible. For a year I couldn’t get a job besides parking cars. Then I was hired freelance by Larsen Colby in L.A. in 1991. My free lance day rate was $25. My first ad was for something called surety bonds, which has something to do with the construction industry. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what they are, and I don’t remember the client.

Q. What work are you most proud of?
A. Outpost.com. Even four years later, it’s one of the more talked-about campaigns, and it had such a tiny media budget. It’s still one of the most loved and hated campaigns ever.

Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?
A. At Wieden + Kennedy, it was three people: Jamie Barrett, Stacy Wall and Jerry Cronin. I’d present work to those guys and they’d say, as a criticism, “It feels like an ad.” They pounded home the importance of playing things straight, not being too “gaggy.”

Q. Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”
A. The Saturn ad, the one with piano music and people walking who would otherwise be in their cars. It’s such a simple idea and so wonderfully executed. The message is that they think about people first before cars.

Q. What’s the smartest business decision you ever made?
A. Quitting Letterman. I wrestled with the fact that it was cool to say I worked there against the reality of the experience.

Q. The dumbest?
A. Pouring large amounts of money into the Nasdaq.

Q. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
A. I would find a way to have clients take a chance on us—exploring other avenues besides humor. But that’s why clients come to us.

Q.What do you think is the most under-rated agency?
A. Crispin Porter + Bogusky. They seem to hit on all cylinders. The Mini print work is great. The “Truth” campaign is interesting. I’m very impressed with what they turn out.

Q. Name one person you’re dying to work with.
A. Strom Thurmond.

Q. What’s the biggest misconception about your agency?
A. That we do one style, or violent ads. People pigeonhole us. Of the seven Fox Sports campaigns, five are not violent.

Q. How do you feel about the Coke work the agency produced that was pulled in 2000?
A. I wasn’t the CD on it, but I think Coke is an impossible client. It’s such a bear to wrestle with. My knowledge of Coke [as a client] up to that point was Fanta. So I guess it didn’t shock me. They’re an unsophisticated client.

Q. What was your first impression of Cliff when you met him?
A. Cliff called me throughout my career to recruit me. He always struck me as affable and quirky. When I met him, I was struck by how nice he was. I also was impressed by his willingness to experiment with the creative.

Q. What’s the best thing about working at Cliff Freeman?
A. The lack of structure.

Q. What’s the worst?
A. The lack of structure. It’s a fun place to work, but there are times when I wish we had our shit together a bit more.