Goodby, Silverstein & Partners flexes creative muscle beyond the Super Bowl
In a year filled with uncertainty, Goodby Silverstein & Partners found a way to stay busy, efficient and creative. While working from home, the team churned out two highly ranked Super Bowl campaigns, brought on 14 new pieces of business, notched an 88% pitch-win rate and retained all of its clients and revenue. While many agencies underwent layoffs, San Francisco-based GS&P escaped that fate by instead implementing tiered pay cuts for anyone making more than $100,000.
About the year 2020, the agency says in its entry: “It was personal.”
“The people at the top took the biggest salary cuts of all,” says Derek Robson, president and managing partner of Omnicom Group’s GS&P. “We took them earlier than everybody else and we came out of them later than everybody else. It was a clarifying moment where it felt like we were in this together.”
Salary cuts were restored after three months, once the agency started winning business due in part to its Brand Camp offering, a month-long strategic sprint open to clients and potential clients, where brands and agency leaders brainstorm together to develop quick marketing solutions. This helped GS&P secure partnerships with brands including Kraft Heinz’s Lunchables and Just Crack an Egg and add business from existing clients like Comcast.
The year, however, was marked by more than the pandemic: As protests and racial unrest swept the country, Goodby stepped in with “Not a Gun,” a campaign for the Courageous Conversation Global Foundation, an organization dedicated to elevating racial consciousness through interracial healing. Its powerful film shows the absurdity of how a candy bar in a white person’s hand can turn into a gun when in a Black person’s hand. Internally, 61% of Goodby’s new hires in 2020 were people of color, compared to 32% of new hires in 2019, bringing the agency’s overall staff to 30% POC.
Another driver for GS&P was its in-house production studio, Elevel, which allowed it to adapt quickly. Within the first four months of the pandemic, Elevel created 84 TV ads, and all of the agency’s clients put out new work, ultimately leading to the studio doubling its revenue in 2020.
Its projects included a BMW campaign, “Calm Wash,” that encouraged viewers to enjoy, ASMR style, the tranquility of a car wash, which took on new meaning during the chaos of COVID. It also launched two Sam Adams spots featuring the Boston Beer brand’s new there’s-one-in-every-family character: “Your Cousin From Boston,” a hapless and hilarious New Englander who unabashedly if ill-advisedly speaks his mind (with a heavy Boston accent) and always brings Sam Adams wherever he goes.
The campaign was created as Sam Adams was looking for a different approach to its marketing.
“In the past we focused on educating drinkers on our process and ingredients,” says Sam Adams Director of Marketing Matt Withington. “We were looking to do something that was decidedly different and connected with younger drinkers in a meaningful way. Goodby really encouraged us to embrace our Boston roots.”
The result was a 5% bump in sales for the Sam Adams brand overall in 2020 (undoubtedly also helped by the popularity of beer during the pandemic) and a 7.6% lift in sales for its seasonal brands.
The new Sam Adams campaign was initially delayed by the pandemic, says Jeff Goodby, co-founder of GS&P. “We had shot a couple of commercials in Los Angeles and we were cutting them together when COVID started,” Goodby recalls. “We were like, ‘These are kind of inappropriate now, people are not socially distanced, they don’t have masks on. It’s weird.”
So Elevel staffers wiped the Cheetle dust off their hands and went to work. In less than a week, they had shot, edited and produced three comedic short films that featured “Your Cousin From Boston” having conversations with his Beantown buddies.
“The star, Greg Hoyt, was at his in-law’s house in Austin,” Goodby said. “Luckily his wife is actually a good camera person. She set the camera up and we were shooting the scenes From San Francisco at our kitchen tables, which was crazy but fun.”
The videos became an instant hit, even inspiring a “Saturday Night Live” skit starring comedian Bill Burr.
Expect to see more of this campaign interjected into culture; for example, its most recent video shows the cousin character getting vaccinated.
Culturally relevant commercials are a hallmark at GS&P, which took fourth place in the USA Today Ad Meter with “The Cool Ranch” that featured an epic dance battle between rapper Lil Nas X and cowboy icon Sam Elliott set to Nas’ hit “Old Town Road.”
“That mashup of country and hip-hop was such a big trend we wanted to not only be a part of it but then also create culture as well,” says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer and partner at GS&P. It was one of four spots from GS&P in the Big Game—the others were for Frito Lay’s Cheetos and Doritos, as well as PepsiCo’s SodaStream and Pepsi.
But Super Bowl ads are only part of the equation. GS&P followed it up with a #CoolRanchDance challenge in collaboration with the AI-powered app, Sway, that seamlessly superimposed your head onto that of a grooving body, so you appear to move just like the stars of the spot.
“I believe people want to participate with brands,” says Bonnie Wan, partner and head of brand strategy at GS&P. “That’s the new era of what a modern brand is, they give people ways to be a part of [a brand’s story].”
In 2021, Goodby followed last year’s Cheetos Super Bowl commercial that featured MC Hammer (see Cheetle dust reference above), with another nostalgia-driven TV spot that featured actor couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher mimicking the “It Wasn’t Me,” song by Shaggy, including a cameo by the singer himself. It also deflated Matthew McConaughey in “Flat Matthew” for Doritos, both of which made it to the top 10 in the Ad Meter.
“Your Cousin From Boston” made an appearance in the 2021 Super Bowl as well, with a commercial that spoofed Budweiser’s traditional Clydesdales TV spots. What was originally a $700,000 regional buy received $12 million in earned media, according to GS&P.
“I got emails from the Bud people we used to work with that were like, ‘You’re going to rot in hell for this,’” Goodby says jokingly.