Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein forged perhaps the most enduring, productive and admired creative partnership in advertising history. Their agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, has had its share of ups and downs, but always seems to come back stronger from any setback. And as a talent incubator, the place has been second to none in the ad world.
Now, Goodby and Silverstein are set to reveal all their secrets in a class on advertising and creativity they're produced for MasterClass, the online educational platform that's enjoyed great success since its founding in 2015 by offering classes from celebrity teachers across a slew of fields.
The class, titled "Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein Teach Advertising and Creativity," launched this week, offering 18 video lessons and other materials for people in advertising and beyond. There's a whole lesson on their most famous ad campaign, "Got Milk?" Other lessons include:
• What is Advertising
• Who We Are & How We Got Here
• Make Something Out of Nothing
• How to Make Advertising that Lives in Culture
• Working with Brands
• Goodby’s Rules for Creative Vandalism
• How to Tell a Story in 30 Seconds
• On Craft: Writing, Design, and Giving Direction
• Anatomy of a Campaign
• The Super Bowl
• Advertising Is Everything and Nothing
• How to Start an Agency
The timing of the launch is a reminder that the class, while in some ways a career retrospective, is hardly a valediction. Indeed, GS&P have produced four Super Bowl spots for this weekend's game—the most they've ever produced for different clients in the big game since the agency's founding in 1983. (And they've created dozens of Super Bowl spots—most famously, E*Trade's "Monkey" in 2000, widely considered one of the best ever done.)
"Jeff and Rich have played in more Super Bowls than most teams," David Rogier, co-founder and CEO of MasterClass, said in a statement. "Their MasterClass offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the culture and process of one of the most successful and innovative advertising firms in the world."
Muse spoke with Goodby and Silverstein earlier this week about how the MasterClass came together and how Super Bowl season has been going for them this year.
Muse: How did you guys get involved in this opportunity?
Rich Silverstein: They got in touch with us. A fellow [David Schriber] who used to be on the board with me at Specialized [Bicycles], who worked at Nike, decided to take the CMO job at MasterClass. Jeff and I were a little bit freaked out. It's rather intimidating when you see the people who they've already asked to be teaching.
You have to go back and reacquaint yourselves with everything you've done in your career, and how you feel about it all, right?
Jeff Goodby: We had to do some planning and figure out what we were going to do. And then, of course, on the day, we tended to throw that all away and just riff on things. But you actually have to take stock of what you know, and figure out how to articulate it. It's not that easy. You don't realize you know all this stuff, and you have to go over it and figure out a way to say it and make it meaningful and useful. That was actually hard.
Silverstein: You totally forget some of the things you've done in 35 years. Mostly, when we produced them, we didn't like them. They didn't come out as good as we hoped, and we were so hard on the work. But with some distance, you go, "Well, that was pretty good."
So, you offer rules for creativity in the MasterClass?
Silverstein: Storytelling is at the center of everything, whether it's new media or old media. It's storytelling. So we've got that. But we didn't want the young people watching this to go, "Here's two old farts showing you how it used to be." It was very important for us to be relevant and modern today, so we show you a range. Some classics, and then some things like the deepfake of Dalí last year—that's as modern as it gets. And then you put in the Mill Valley Film Festival, our first piece. It's all interesting—just different kinds of technology.
Goodby: We did try to keep it up to date by referencing a lot of recent stuff. And MasterClass is able to get the rights to show a lot of work, so people who watch this will see a lot of work. It's really fun in that respect.
Silverstein: At first, they wanted 12 episodes at maybe 7-10 minutes each. It turned into 18 episodes. It's remarkable.
Goodby: It's a good thing we cut away to our commercials, because you'd really get sick of us!
What other lessons do you impart on how to think about creativity today?
Goodby: The key thing Rich and I both agree on is that creativity comes from observation and from going out into the world and watching films and reading books—engaging in the world, so you have all these elements in your head that you can mix and remix to make things. We think that's very important to what we do.
Silverstein: One of the episodes is about doing a lot with nothing, and basically that's how we started the company. We used our friends and family, and we used giant video cameras. We didn't have any money. The point is, a good story doesn't need money. A good story is a good story. Now we get to play with a million dollars, but back then we had a thousand. There's also an episode about how to start a company, which actually I found the most charming because it really was, "Find a partner you can trust amd like and you can live with." Which is my partnership with Goodby.
Goodby: This is also the first time they've focused on two people for a MasterClass. That was really positive in the sense that when you watch Rich and me together on screen, you get this feeling of the camaraderie and the spark between us that could make a company. There's a chapter about starting a company, but throughout you feel that you have to find the right person so you can make things together.
Silverstein: Even though there's a chapter on "Got Milk?" alone, it shows you how it started and how we bounced back and forth on it. There's also one on the Super Bowl, which is fun.
It's not that you've necessarily agreed on everything over the years, though.
Goodby: Not at all. You'll hear stories about us not agreeing as well as agreeing. There are moments where they interviewed us separately, which are really interesting too. We talk about each other a little bit, and about our own perspectives on the work, and about our pasts. There's a benefit to showing how we got started individually, where we came from—Rich working at Rolling Stone and me working at a newspaper in Boston, that kind of thing. I think that's very instructive.
Silverstein: We also wanted to make sure it wasn't so inside baseball. This might be an extreme example, but a lawyer needs to tell a good story in court. Really, we're trying to tell people how to be engaged.
Goodby: We tried to make it useful to people beyond advertising and design, and I think we succeeded that. We kept it pretty wide.
Since it is Super Bowl week, let's dig into that. You guys have four spots on the game this time.
Silverstein: Yeah, we have four [for Cheetos, Doritos, SodaStream and Pepsi]. We've never had four spots for four different clients. We've had four for one client, for Budweiser, but never this. So the stakes are pretty high.
Goodby: We're not nervous! We're fine!
Silverstein: We did some teasers. This is new with the Super Bowl now. The teasers are whipping people up as much as the spots.
Goodby: I think our teasers are really good. There's one with Sam Elliott reading the lyrics of the Lil Nas X song "Old Town Road." Which is pretty terrific. There's another with MC Hammer in 1989, with some Cheetos orange stuff on his fingers, and he invents "U Can't Touch This." That's a funny one, too. The spots are good, but the teasers are really well done, too.
You have to think more and more about the teasers these days, right?
Goodby: Originally everybody embargoed their spot and sprung it on us at the Super Bowl. Then we went through a period where everybody went, "Screw it, we're just going to release it early." As Rich said when we did the class, that's a stupid idea. It takes away all the fun of releasing the spot on the Bowl. So we kind of do something that's in between the two now. We give a little teaser, get people to know that a certain character is going in the ad, or a certain advertiser's going to be advertising. Then we spring the finished thing on the Super Bowl as a surprise.
Silverstein: But the teasers have gotten quite good. The MC Hammer thing—I enjoyed it because of the absurdity of suggesting this MC Hammer song might have come from eating a bag of Cheetos. And it works. And you go, that's clever. There's a pre-life, there's the life in real time, and then there's this afterlife. The Super Bowl has changed. It's not a one-day thing.
Goodby: In the case of the "Cool Ranch" thing we made with Sam Elliott for Doritos, the commercial itself involves some dancing. They made this wonderful app that's called Sway. Somebody just takes some footage of you dancing really badly, and you put it into Sway, and it comes out the other side with you dancing really well. I did one, and it was amazing. I showed it to people, and they didn't think it was me. But look—you can see the Birkenstocks!
Silverstein: It's truly amazing. We started with these giant 60-second commercials, and now we're doing this app where you dance—it's just crazy apps. We never got into this business knowing we could ever do this kind of thing.
You guys had a big hit a couple of years back on the Super Bowl with Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman for Doritos and Mountain Dew.
Silverstein: That was two companies in one. Each got 30 seconds, but they were talking to each other. Talk about tension there. There's a lot of tension making a Super Bowl spot, and there's a lot riding on each company and each company's CMO. And to have two CMOs, and all their people, along with two different products—it was a tough call, but it turned out well.
Goodby: The CMOs were extremely careful to have exactly 30 seconds devoted to their product.
Silverstein: Not a fraction less.
Kind of like last year with Bud Light and HBO.
Goodby: I bet that was similar, yeah.
So, after doing this MasterClass, do you have a sense of your place in advertising history as a creative company that's done such iconic work? Do you think big picture like that?
Silverstein: I think it's a good question. It's very humbling because I grew up with David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach and the classic advertising created from nothing. Jeff and I have just put our heads down and done what feels right to us, never intending to make a big company, never intending to be famous. It's just humbling. I don't know, Jeff. We haven't really talked about it.
Goodby: I don't think we're history yet. We're still doing it. I think we're still just a couple of idiots making things we hope our friends will like. That's really been the secret, to tell you the truth.
Silverstein: It's that stupidity that's made us successful!
Goodby: It's actually true. The innocence of that is what's made it work. We don't overthink. And in the sense of a legacy, I would like to say we've never had one enormous client that gave us license to do creative things over and over. We've always had a lot of different clients, a lot of different-sized clients. If we've done anything, I think we've done good work for a really wide array of companies. And we don't have one style, which I think is really instructive.
Silverstein: I also think that what we can look back on is the talent that has come through the company, who have fathered and mothered other companies, or are doing well somewhere else now. We've had a really good history of people. I know it sounds a little corny, but our people have been rather remarkable.
Goodby: We're only as good as the people who've worked here. We've been so lucky.