The most unsettling spot in Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' latest round of work for TiVo, the personalized television service, contains an extra beat. One beat too close to Joe Montana slathering Ronnie Lott's groin with anti-itch ointment. The effect is horrifying. It feels something like this:
Oh, this is one of those fake product ads. It's really for something else. It's fake. Definitely fake. Right? Isn't it? Joe's not gonna. Wait. Wait! Whew, it is fake. Thank God. And thank God for TiVo.
"We wanted it to go a beat longer," says copywriter Chris Ford. "We didn't want you to go up to the edge. We wanted you to go over the edge and then we were going to pull you back."
Ford and art director/ACD Peter Nicholson have taken up residence on and around this edge with their recent work, thanks in large part to a very long leash, courtesy of the client. "They were really open to letting us use them in whatever way we wanted," says Nicholson of the apparently affable Montana and Lott. "And that kind of led us to making fun of the way celebrity spokespeople do advertising."
Ford, 32, and Nicholson, 33, have worked together for a little over a year after emigrating less than two years ago from TBWA Chiat/Day/New York and Leagas-Delaney/San Francisco, respectively. Their first project together was for the Pacific Bell Yellow Pages, a series of spots in which consumers remember to set their fingers a-walking after having telephone books launched at their addled heads. But it's TiVo that has really allowed the pair to paint outside the lines.
"The client's really comfortable with us, and they actually dared us to go further than we did the first round," Nicholson says. "And we were like, well, that's an easy thing to do."
In addition to the Montana/Lott spot, they've produced "Epidemic," which features an emergency room hit by an influx of TV-related injuries - "TVs hurting people. People hurting TVs" - and "Earl," about a man who, having been exposed to TiVo, now does everything his way, including chopping down parking meters and driving on the wrong side of the interstate.
"We started thinking about the cool things we liked about TiVo and that just kind of put us in a very strange place," says Nicholson.
As for how they get to (or back from) this very strange place, Ford and Nicholson don't have a secret, just an ideal and frictionless convergence of creative energy. In other words, two guys in a room, tossing around ideas.
"It takes two guys, I think. It just works better that way. You never see one cop interrogating a prisoner," concludes Ford. "It's always two."