Back to the Beginning: A Q&A with Advertising Professor Doug Gould

Professor Gould worked as an art director and creative director at Hill Holliday for many years before coming to Boston University.

A professor of advertising at the College of Communication, Professor Doug Gould is one of the most influential names in the business today. He’s won pretty much all the major advertising awards, earned two Emmy nominations, and his Super Bowl spots (1, 2) have made it to two separate All-Time Top 5 Super Bowl Commercials lists.

The COMmunicator sat down with him to talk about how it all started, and if ever there was a time when he was in the shoes of the students he teaches today.

 

Nihal Atawane: How long have you been in advertising?

Doug Gould: 34 years. [Pauses] Yup, I still look great.

 

NA: Did you ever study advertising, like your students in COM do?

DG: No. Back then, there were no ad programs. I come from very humble beginnings. When I moved to college, I had two shirts on hangers. I was the first child in my extended family to go to college. I could paint, I could draw pictures. But I sucked at math. My parents thought I was going to be starving in an attic. [Laughs]

 

NA: So, how did you start out in advertising?

DG: I interviewed for a job at Bernard Hodes Advertising. They did recruitment ads—the sewer cleaning of advertising.

Well, I didn’t get the job. [Laughs]

Even at the lowest end of advertising, I didn’t get the job. But I had something going for me. The vice president of that agency, Dave Dwyer, was my high-school soccer goalie’s dad and my church youth group leader in middle school. He told the creative director, “You’re going to give that kid a job. He’s a good kid.”

One day, about three months into the job, Dave asked me how I was doing, and I told him I felt guilty. I said, “I feel like I got the job because I knew you.” To which he replied, “Yeah, that is why you got the job, but if you weren’t any good, I’d have to fire you.” That reassured me. I felt good about myself after that.

The lesson from that that I pass on to my students is that it doesn’t matter where you start. It just matters that you do. You might get a job because of somebody you know, but after that, it’s all about you.

 

NA: Do you remember your first week?

DG: I have a very vivid memory. The first week of working on 264 Beacon Street in this tiny advertising agency, being just thrilled that I have a job, wearing this tweed sports coat that my mother told me I had to buy. I’m pretty sure I was wearing jeans because I was also thrilled to discover that you could wear jeans in advertising. And dockers.

And I was coming out of the door. It was a Friday afternoon, and I saw my reflection as a working man for the first time. I was like, “Yes! I get to do this for 45 years!” I was pumping my fist like a stock movie actor. It was exciting.

 

NA: When new technology showed up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was there a “sink or swim” moment for you?

DG: I began to uncover computers in 1991. I was excited by technology because I was aware it was going to allow me to make the kinds of decisions I was bad at [making] on my own. I talked my bosses into buying us Macs, and we got trained in Photoshop. My whole world exploded in terms of what we could do.

Fast forward to 1995. I got to Hill Holliday, which was a dream job. I was hired as a senior art director. And I walked into my office on the first day, and it was this amazing office that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. The sun rose there every morning. I looked over at my desk and asked the HR guy, “Where’s my Mac?”

He said, “Art directors don’t have Macs. There’s two shared Macs for the company.”

I was one of the people who really pushed for computers for designers there. The older guys were afraid of people like me. One of them made a joke I’ll never forget: He said, “I turned on my computer this morning, and it didn’t come up with any ideas for me.”

And I thought to myself, “They don’t understand what this is. They’re afraid of it. I never want to be that guy.”

Then the internet came. And with it came web design, coding, HTML. By this time, I was a group head of a massive creative department.

One thing I always did, even as a group head, was make sure I could still do the work. I always kept my hands in the dirt. The message that I learned from both youth and age is “stay relevant.”

 

NA: How would present-day creative director Gould treat shy, day-one Doug?

DG: I think I would have liked his enthusiasm. I would have recognized him being naïve, but I’d have appreciated his energy.

 

NA: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your students and other aspiring ad professionals?

DG: Live life outside of work. There’s no job worth giving up everything for. The best work I’ve ever done is not because I understand work, but because I understand what it’s like to have a girl break up with me, what it’s like to be a teenager, what it’s like to have children, what it’s like to watch children grow up, what it’s like to see someone die.

And if you don’t live those things, you’re only going to do great ads about work, and you can only do so many of those. I always tell my students that if people I work with come to my funeral, that’s a bonus. But if it’s only people I work with, that means I spend too much time at work.

 

 

 

Nihal Atawane, Staff Writer

Nihal Atawane is a writer for The COMmunicator and a second-year graduate student in the advertising program at COM. He spends his free time thinking of witty comebacks for arguments he lost a year ago and watching wood-carving videos with his imaginary cat, Harold.

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