Advertising Advice from the "Got Milk" Man

For more than a decade, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco has been considered part of the top tier of creative ad agencies worldwide. Campaigns that helped the San Francisco outfit achieve that mark include the California Fluid Milk Processors Board (Got Milk?), Saturn (DKL), E-Trade, Hewlett Packard (HPQ), Netflix (NFLX), and Anheusuer-Busch (BUD).

Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of the agency along with Rich Silverstein, has won nearly every advertising award in existence. With proven skills directing commercials, copywriting (he used to write for the Harvard Lampoon), and illustrating, Goodby understands the craft of advertising -- and he'll be talking about it at Stories from the Source: Radical Craft, the biannual conference at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., which opens Mar. 25.

BusinessWeek Marketing Editor David Kiley recently interviewed Goodby about the intersection of advertising and design. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Why is an advertising guy addressing a design conference?

Advertising has a responsibility to act like a thing that is going to be unavoidably in the environment, where we live and breathe. And we have a responsibility to make that work in such a way that it is welcomed and not scorned. Creating communication that is welcomed helps both the success of the advertising and the landscape. That's where design comes in. Advertising is design in motion.

How do you mean?

Advertising is out there. Our job is to come up with more advertising that people actually seek out. It's the same way with successful design. When you design something right, people don't just accept it, they seek it out. And then they tell their friends about it or show it off.

The challenge is the same in advertising, now more than ever. People are the best ad medium I know of. When you get a person to wear and talk your brand in a positive way, that's what we are all aiming for. If you don't create advertising that is welcomed, I don't see how you get there.

Talk about a campaign of yours where you feel you have hit the sweet spot.

For the Milk Processors, we have come up with a Web site that ties into wild postings we did that talk about lost cows. We suggested that the cows were abducted by aliens. Do you know what happened to this cow? Have you seen her? There's a phone number and the Web site

The idea here is that there is a veneer of reality to the whole thing, but then it's tongue-in-cheek. It's combining entertainment with marketing in an idea that people are willing to seek out.

So, is the old model of the unique selling proposition dead or at least dying?

I wouldn't say that exactly. But what I do know is that the Internet has reversed the tide flow. You have to create stuff today that people go to rather than spending all your time sending stuff out to consumers hoping that they see it.

What work of other agencies do you think hits the mark?

I really liked the Mini stuff that Crispin Porter [+Bogusky] did. They created this campaign around the idea of counterfeit Minis, which put the product on the same plane as diamonds and watches. And it took on this issue that is actually quite serious for carmakers in other parts of the world, like China, where BMW and Mercedes seriously do have to cope with the problem of their cars being counterfeited.

It took a serious issue and turned on its head for the entertainment of the people who are into the brand. That's very giving on the part of the brand. People appreciate that in their subconscious if not overtly.

Branded entertainment seems to be all the rage, seemingly kicked off about six years ago with BMW Films. What makes for good branded entertainment?

First, I never thought BMW Films was all that breakthrough. It was successful, but it seemed like a pretty old idea. The product was integrated into the films in a good way. But in the end it was an old idea just transferred to the Internet.

The branded-entertainment model can work as long as it is simple and honest. You don't want to lure people to a Web site with a promise of naked ladies and then have the payoff be about Doritos. And some of the stuff I have seen, like the Art of the Heist campaign for Audi last year, which taps into this alternate-reality gaming trend, I thought was too complicated. It required too much time on the part of the consumer.

I like simple stuff. When Crispin did the subservient chicken on the Web, that was a simple idea. Go to this Web site and the chicken will do what you want it to. Cows abducted by aliens. Simple. Entertaining.

Obviously you are a big proponent of moving a lot of advertising to the Internet.

TV and the Net will soon be the same thing. And companies are going to acquire a reputation for either being good entertainers or not. And if you don't play that game well, you'll be left in the dust. Eventually, we'll go to a Web site for all our entertainment. This is where advertising and design start to really look like the same thing. If you think of advertising as just selling, then that's the old model.

Come up with a message and a media plan and throw it out there and hope people notice it. When you design something and are thoughtful about it, you go into it with the idea that you have to lure the consumer to the product based on how it looks and functions. It has to communicate that there is something in it for the consumer. That's a lot closer to the model we work with.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE