My career in 5 executions: Margaret Johnson

Goodby Silverstein & Partners' executive creative director takes on issues with art

Name: Margaret Johnson
Title: Executive Creative Director and Partner, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Years in industry: 20
First job in industry: The Richards Group, Dallas, TX

Margaret Johnson has spent most of her career at GS&P, and has spearheaded the San Francisco-based agency’s creative direction since 2015. She is a founding member of the 3 Percent Conference and is on the board of the One Show and Facebook’s Creative Council.

"Perfect is boring," she says. "To nurture creativity that drives innovation, you can’t be afraid to fail."

"I like to give creatives the tools they need to stay inspired — and the freedom to chase their passions," she adds. "When that happens, it’s amazing what they’ll do, especially given the explosion of new platforms for creating and communicating what we’re experiencing. Often our best campaigns happen because people want to fix something very hard to fix."

Here are the 5 executions Johnson says have meant the most to her and her career.

Brand: Häagen-Dazs
Client: Häagen-Dazs
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees"
Year: 2009


This was Johnson’s first campaign after returning to work following the birth of her first child. "I returned from maternity leave, and everything had become ‘digitally integrated’ overnight."

The campaign, which detailed the plight of the honeybees suffering from colony collapse disorder, included TV spots, print ads and an online video that went viral. Haagen-Dazs testified before Congress about the issue, and the campaign won the first Green Pencil for environmentally conscious advertising from the One Show. "To this day," Johnson says, "I’m not sure why Ludacris presented it to me, but I am happy it worked out that way."

"This campaign was a game changer for me. It opened my eyes to looking at things in a 360-degree fashion and ultimately gave Jeff and Rich a lot of confidence in my abilities as a creative director."

Brand: Logitech
Client: Logitech
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Kevin Bacon"
Year: 2010

Johnson doesn’t pull any punches when describing the evolution of this ad. She says it "emerged from the worst brief I’ve ever been handed: We were asked to do a demo spot for a product no one really wants."

The resulting spot starred Kevin Bacon and his biggest fan, also played by Kevin Bacon. "It goes to show you that you can still do great work with a bad brief," Johnson says. And, she adds, "I can now proudly say that I am one degree from Kevin Bacon."

Brand: Adobe
Client: Adobe / Ad Council
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "I Am a Witness"
Year: 2015

"Being the mom of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, I know that the realities of bullying are all too real," Johnson says. But social media and digital connectivity mean online bullying doesn’t stop once the school day is over.

GS&P found research that said 60% of the time, bullying ends quickly after a witness speaks up. So they created the "I Am a Witness" emoji, which helps users call out online bullying when they see it. The icon is now included as part of the latest iOS keyboards.

"It has become a universal symbol for ‘I don’t stand for this,’" Johnson says, "and is combating not just bullying but also any hesitation about stepping in when bullying occurs."

Brand: Sonic Drive-In
Client: Sonic Drive-In
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Sonic #SquareShakes"
Year: 2016

"People are obsessed with capturing the world on Instagram," Johnson says, "so we thought, ‘What would it look like if we manipulated the real world to fit Instagram?’ "

GS&P partnered with Instagram chef Jacques La Merde to create square versions of the Creamery milkshakes at fast food chain Sonic, "a product designed for the platform — something that had never been done before," Johnson says.

The innovative approach earned plenty of media attention. "Once a client gets that kind of press," she adds, "their appetite for more soars."

Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Unacceptable Acceptance Letters"
Year: 2016

GS&P created this provocative and sobering campaign in partnership with production company Prettybird. The pro-bono campaign included print ads in USA Today and The Harvard Crimson.

"When I saw The Hunting Ground, a documentary about colleges’ cover-ups of sexual assault, it struck a chord because I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, one of the universities featured in the documentary," Johnson says.

The campaign was timed to coincide with the college acceptance letters students around the country were receiving. "The message is clear," Johnson says. "Schools’ cover-ups are just as unacceptable as the attacks, and we need to hold colleges accountable."

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