Matt Williams: for proper ads go to Goodby & Silverstein

Every year at Cannes one of the sessions involves inviting a couple of advertising legends up on stage for them to reminisce about life in the industry.

They’re always amongst the most fascinating 45 minutes of the week. As far removed from the slick, meticulously honed presentations from tech and data planners that punctuate most of the festival, these are stripped back, under-rehearsed conversations by personalities who have seen it and done it all. It makes for a lot of fun.

goodby-silverstein-cannes-hed-2015This year, the honour was given to Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein. These are the guys who helped make Nike cool to skateboarders. Who reinvented HP. Who regularly helped Budweiser smash the Super Bowl with the iconic Clydesdales or talking lizards. Who entered advertising history with the simple phrase ‘Got Milk?’

Apparently the session marked the first time Goodby and Silverstein had ever shared the Cannes stage together. But having shared so much of advertising history together the conversation flowed as effortlessly as the red wine the pair had brought with them to drink during their set.

The conversation rarely matched the slideshow on the screen behind them, and the session overran so much that the compere literally had to walk on to wrap them up, but no-one seemed to care when the stories were as good as they were.

Here they are, in some guise or other:

There were tales of wrecking cars (Goodby had to phone up the president of Porsche to tell him that they’d written off a car on the shoot, which was one of only four models in existence…the president’s response? “ah don’t worry that happens all the time”).

There were tales of ‘the time before HR’, where they traded being paid by a Norwegian Cruise Ship firm in exchange for a company away weekend on one of the boats. The subsequent carnage caused by the weekend “resulted in a lot of apologising”.

And there were tales about being fired by clients. A lot of them. Indeed, sometimes they’d even managed to get fired before they were ever appointed (Steve Jobs phoned them up because he was thinking of having a look around and wanted to see if they’d like to pitch for the Apple account. Somehow in that phone call Goodby managed to convince him to stick with TBWA).

There was also the time that, following some big successes, a Nike senior executive sat Silverstein down to ask whether the current approach of Nike working with both GS&P and Wieden & Kennedy was the right thing to be doing. Silverstein managed to convince him that really a brand like Nike should only have one single agency relationship. “So they did the right thing and consolidated…and only worked with Weiden & Kennedy.”

Yet whilst the main premise of the talk was a trip down memory lane, the pair did also have some very pertinent things to say on the current state of the industry. One gripe, which I thought was interesting, was the lack of support given by the trade press to the smaller up-and-coming agencies. GS&P clearly valued the support and strength of their relationship with the likes of Advertising Age and AdWeek as they were growing up, and were clearly uncomfortable on the intense focus that the press now afford the networks as opposed to the entrepreneurs and agile smaller shops.

But what most struck a chord with me was Silverstein’s comment that there aren’t enough great campaigns any more. “There are some amazing one-offs at the moment, but so few great long running campaigns.” That’s perhaps easy for Goodby and Silverstein to say considering their legacy with campaigns like the Budweiser Lizards, Polaroid Cameras and ‘Got Milk? But you can see why it’s a frustration, and it’s become particularly clear at this festival.

So many awards are for great one off ideas, but don’t seem to have a completely clear relevance to a brand’s overall narrative. That can be dangerous when the initial buzz from an idea dies down.

This isn’t an argument between short-form and long-form content – although I did see one Cannes Lion awarded to a tweet (it generated lots of PR coverage, but the entry itself was the single tweet, nothing else). Instead this is an argument for brand legacy, around building a brand with consistent values and messaging. Not spunking everything on a quick PR win that may or may not work.

Indeed I attended another session today where Sir Martin Sorrell and Al Gore discussed the dangers of short-term thinking, which they both believed too many organisations are beginning to do.

And considering one of the other buzz topics of the festival is the importance of storytelling – where all brands want to create great content that tells great long-term stories, then maybe we need to re-evaluate just how much attention we put on quick-wins and how much we put on coming up with actual, long lasting campaigns.

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