101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Founder, Chairman and Partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
“Our job is to build a brand through language, imagery, voice and sound”
Rich Silverstein, Founder, Chairman and Partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
After graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York City, Silverstein moved to San Francisco to work as an art director in one-year increments for Rolling Stone magazine; Bozell & Jacobs; Mc-Cann Erickson; Foote, Cone & Belding; and Ogilvy & Mather, where he met Jeff Goodby and finally settled down. They founded GS&P in 1983 and have won just about every advertising award imaginable. In 2002, Silverstein was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and, in 2004, into The One Club Creative Hall of Fame. Along with his partner Jeff Goodby, he was named Executive of the Decade by Adweek. His passion is evident whether he’s crafting client work, creating his own work, working on projects for the Center for Investigative Reporting or visually blogging for the Huffington Post.
Reese: Let’s talk about music.
Silverstein: Without music, you have nothing. Every once in a while there’s a young creative who says to me, “I don’t want to put any music on it. We don’t need it. We’ll just use sound eff ects.” And they think it’s manipulative and commercial. I disagree. Soundtracks are
so powerful. Music sets the tone and the mood. It’s almost kind of subversive, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It makes you feel something you don’t even know you’re feeling.
Reese: Do you believe it can change consumer behavior?
Silverstein: That’s the big question. It goes back to the universal question: Can marketing achieve that? Did you watch the show Mad Men? You know, the episode around the Coca-Cola song, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” We’re hard-wired for music, it’s in our blood. You hear that song, and it gives you chills, even though it’s kind of corny. It’s the most powerful Coca-Cola commercial ever made, and how many years ago was that? Almost forty?
Reese: It’s crazy! I know.
Silverstein: We have always used music. I don’t think we’ve ever done a spot without music – at least none that I liked.
Reese: I find that the reality in our industry is often the opposite, though. Music is just an afterthought.
Silverstein: It’s part of the editing.
Reese: Right. It’s not really at the strategic level.
Silverstein: We just won the Gold Lion and two Silvers for the Adobe Photoshop 25. Photoshop’s birthday was coming up and they came to us looking for ideas. So we pulled out a Steven Tyler song, and we built the entire video around the song. We had the song first, but we had to edit it to get it powerful within 60 seconds. Then we had to get Steven Tyler’s approval – and he loved it. It was a lot of fun, and certainly not an afterthought.
Reese: Most brands are quite disciplined in terms of visual and verbal communication, but almost arbitrary in terms of audio, even though brands with a high discipline in audio tend to have a higher marketvalue.
Silverstein: That’s very interesting. I think Apple figured that out long ago. They’re as strict with their audio as they are with their graphic design.
“Human beings can’t survive without music and wherever technology takes us tomorrow we will always respond to music the way we did a thousand years back.”
Reese: Do you think brands should follow Apple’s example?
Silverstein: I’ve never really thought about it, but it’s very interesting. The problem is that the world has become so impatient. Whatever you do today, we don’t want it tomorrow. I brought this up in Cannes, too. I’m really tired of not seeing great campaigns. Stop giving awards to one-off s that are trying to save the world. And focus on building a brand instead. Apple doesn’t win awards, but it builds its brand. I believe our job is to build a brand through language, imagery, voice, sound, and that means a consistency. But companies don’t seem to see it. A new CMO comes in, and everything’s thrown away. Whatever you were, we’re not.” The only reason that Apple works is that you had Steve Jobs at the top, saying, “This is what we’ll do.” Without him, it wouldn’t have happened. No other company is as disciplined.
Reese: There are others – German Telekom, which is T-Mobile in the U.S. And McDonald’s, or Coca-Cola. They’re all very disciplined.
Silverstein: I think it’s very interesting. I’m not against it. I think that music can be a brand signature. I don’t see much of it, though. I don’t see enough of it.
Reese: What you said earlier is true: The average time a CMO is in office is 18 months. They come in, they want to change everything, and what happens is that you lose the equity you built in something that might have been existent for ten years or so.
Silverstein: If you look at car design – look at the Fiat 500 launch. They kept the DNA of the car and then expounded on it. A smart CMO came in and looked at what was the best of that brand, and kept it.
Reese: Our way of communicating with one another has changed a lot over the past years. If you look at the last 20 years, do you see a shift in how important music has become?
Silverstein: No, I don’t see a shift. But what I’m realizing by what you have said is that I’m probably part of the problem. Music tends to be a part of the editing process. Or we take the rough cut and take it to a music house, and they will give us a range of things to think about. But the concept of music being part of the actual idea from the very beginning onwards, as part of the script, that’s very interesting. It can’t be like that every time, but there should be more of it.
Reese: How about your creative decision-making process? Has that changed in any way?
Silverstein: The chain of decisions has never changed. We always try to fi nd the truth in the product. When we develop a creative piece, it has to feel right for the brand. I have to be able to identify with it. It has to be something I can connect with. And music plays the role of the connective tissue. We are wired to appreciate music. We probably can’t talk about it too much… You feel music, and you talk words. Back to your question: The decision-making itself hasn’t changed, but the world has changed so much. We use different access points. The Internet is this giant new area to play in, and so are cell phones. Our insight into humanity hasn’t changed, but the technology has – and how we use it for our storytelling.
Reese: You’ve been part of so many successful recipes in the past. You have the ability to pick a winner out of a hundred options. How do you do it?
Silverstein: Both with your heart and your mind. Don’t let anyone talk you into something. What I had to learn is that you can’t be liked as a creative director. You can’t be suckered into wanting someone to be happy because you liked their work. You can’t.
Reese: If somebody asked you how you developed that sense of knowing when something is great. What would you say?
Silverstein: You either have it or you don’t. There’s one Lady Gaga, there’s one Tony Bennett, and there’s one Paul Simon. I don’t think you can learn it. I can tell you the rules: If it feels right, it’s right. I can tell you that. But I can’t teach you what feels right. You have to have that in you. We really put an eff ort into recruiting people who get it. I don’t have to teach them – I just have to bring it out in them.
Reese: So you’re saying you have to have it in your DNA. Either you’re born with it or you’re not.
Silverstein: Yeah. We held a cocktail party in Cannes, and a lot of people who used to work for us stopped by. They’re from all over the world, they either run companies or they are at a senior level at their agencies, and they started out with us! We have a very good way of finding talent. It’s critical to any business, really. You have to find the right talent – otherwise you don’t have anything. I’m very proud that we find the talent and we teach them our inside, our discipline. But their heart and their mind are already established.
Reese: If there was a core message you wanted to get across to the people reading this book, what would it be?
Silverstein: I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t done my best work yet. I want people to watch out for what we’re going to do next year. You probably don’t watch the Tour de France? I’m very involved in cycling. Tony Martin is the world’s best time trialist. He won the stage yesterday for Specialized, one of our clients. It was a
monster ride. Talk about drive, and discipline, and never
giving up. That’s what I want to be.
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