As the winner of the 2020 Grand Ogilvy Award, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was recognized for a breakthrough campaign focused on tackling bias in law enforcement. WARC’s Geoffrey Precourt looks at this initiative, and another breakthrough campaign from the agency’s past.

For well over three decades, guns have been a part of the backstory for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

It’s a tale that tracks back to iconic journalist Hunter S. Thompson, rodents, and the newspaper business. But that history can wait, because firearms have very much become a focal point of the agency’s current narrative.

Fast forward to 51:47 into the video below from the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) 2020 David Ogilvy Awards, an annual competition where research, strategy, and creativity combine to deliver a successful entry:

As we join the video, a full roster of Gold, Silver and Bronze winners have flashed before the ARF digital audience. The screen fills with a checkerboard of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners faces at the moment they discover that they’ve just won the end-of-the-evening Grand Ogilvy Award.

The ARF captured the moment in kind-of-real time. Though the Team Goodby sequence had been recorded in advance of the presentation night, the surprise and pride is manifest as the understanding of the moment seemed to sweep across the screen.

It was a right-time/right-place moment, not just for the agency, but for the work it had produced. The Grand Ogilvy Award-winning “Not A Gun” campaign, in support of the Courageous Conversation Global Foundation (CCGF), is a 360-degree campaign with components including outdoor, print, and video messaging to shed light on racial profiling by law enforcement.

The harrowing video leads to, where people can sign a petition calling for more de-escalation training in police departments, as well calling for members of law enforcement to take unconscious-bias training administered by CCGF.

The research that supported the imagery also hit the high bar of rigorous strategic integrity demanded by the ARF competition’s jury. “As brilliant as the final product might have been, the power of ‘Not a Gun’ rested not just in its execution, but its over-the-top planning,” one judge observed.

Thirty-five years ago, however, Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein (partner Andy Berlin left the agency in 1992) was holding a gun.

Or, more properly, they put a firearm into the hands of Hunter S. Thompson, a renowned journalist at the time (and a legend today), who had just signed on as media critic at the San Francisco Examiner as the most visible part of a makeover of the afternoon paper engineered by Will Hearst, its new publisher.

Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein was charged with an assignment to capture the Examiner’s energy. And so it took Thompson out to a shooting range, put a pistol in his hand, and a piece of copy in front of him.

The writer fired off the gun, over and over, but ignored the agency’s script. Instead, he looked full face into the camera and ad-libbed, “We shall chase them like rats across the tundra.”

Five years ago, in an interview, Hearst (now board chair of the Hearst Corp.) and Jeff Goodby (same guy, same agency, new title as co-chairman/partner, and with the same hair he had in 1985, albeit with a more silver hue) captured the moment Thompson went off script (advance to 4:54 in the video)… 

… and uttered a declaration that no one quite understood at the time, but nonetheless became the rallying cry for the paper.