PROFILE: Jeff Goodby

'Advertising is not medicine; it should be like candy,' says Jeff Goodby, one of the world's most respected creatives. We caught up with him to learn more about his laid-back philosophy.

Jeff Goodby started out in life as a political reporter but when his wife wanted to move from Boston to California, he decided he would also have a change of career. He drank beer for two weeks, wrote some spec spots and landed himself a job at J Walter Thompson. If only life was still that easy.

It proved a great move, not only because Goodby's fun-loving, laid-back personality is much more suited to advertising than to hard-nosed, cynical journalism, but because Goodby Silverstein, the agency which he co-founded in 1983, has gone on to become one of the most universally admired and successful of recent years.

The agency's work often manages to achieve cult status - from the iconic Louie the Lizard for Budweiser, to the off-the-wall E*Trade spots. This is incredibly important to Goodby, and the thing he loves most about advertising.

Perhaps I'm seeing the hippie-like creative through psychedelic glasses, but you get the impression that for him, advertising is not about money, or ego, but about making people happy - clients, consumers and creatives.

"You can create a piece of popular culture and then walk out on to the streets and hear people talking about it ... There's nothing more delightful than seeing other people enjoy it," he enthuses.

Goodby's output is also famously funny and, although he believes comedy is the most difficult thing to explain, one thing that he does stress is that it must be based on truth to be accepted and appreciated by audiences.

"I also believe there's a lot of humanity within humour. Commercials happen fast - it's hard to bring up a lot of heavier emotions quickly. But you can have a funny thing happen in a very short amount of time and have people recognise it as being true and honest."

The agency's success - eight Gold Lions, nine Silvers, 10 Bronzes and one Grand Prix, spanning clients including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Porsche, E*Trade, Polaroid and the California Milk Processor Board, has spawned worldwide admiration - and imitation.

As well as new and existing clients asking for 'a lizard thing' for their brand, the agency has also had to contend with copycat clients outside the agency. Its famous Got Milk? slogan, for example, has been used and adapted by everyone from washing powder brands to off-licenses and churches: 'Got Booze?' 'Got Jesus?' Got ideas?

One of the biggest challenges for the agency in recent years has been ensuring its cutting-edge boutique culture is maintained as staff numbers have swelled to 350 and Omnicom has become its parent. Goodby argues that the basic philosophy of producing intelligent work that the public likes to see hasn't changed.

This appears to be borne out in some of its most recent work, including that for Saturn. Acknowledging that the car category isn't the most creative, the agency wanted to shake, things up. Hence its debut commercial, 'Sheet Metal', was not about the car, but about the people who drive it. In fact, the vehicle does not actually appear in the spot.

Goodby admits that BMW and its film series broadcast on the web has, to some extent, shaken up the category, but he believes we need to go further.

"BMW Films is a funny hybrid between a movie and product placement. It's interesting but I believe we'll get more elaborate than that.

"I think that in time, because we can block out commercials, but there are certain commercials we like, we'll see advertising that tells you when the advertising is on. It sounds crazy, I know, but it would work for clients like Nike and Guinness."

These and other such crazy suggestions can be heard on the tape.

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