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Sometimes, I Even Write Ads

Posted on July 25, 2011 and read 2,694 times

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paulriss 156x156 Sometimes, I Even Write AdsPaul Riss
ACD
DDB Canada


I’ve been working in the communication arts industry for about sixteen years. I began as a graphic designer and later (about 8 years ago), I moved to advertising. I have been creative for much longer than that. If I had to put it into years, I’d say about thirty-five years. I’m not exactly sure what I did for the first five years of my life so thirty-five it is. I lost my way creatively twice. Ironically, this happened when I immersed myself in the creative fields of graphic design and advertising, foregoing any other creative outlets. But who can blame me? It happened at the beginning of both career paths. I was trying to make a name for myself.

It wasn’t until about three years ago, that I really came back into my own as creatively. Before I got into graphic design, I was truly creative. I painted, drew and wrote compulsively. It was like eating -, if it didn’t happen, something would just feel wrong. I may not have been able to pinpoint what was wrong, but something was amiss. I’ve never felt this way about advertising. Don’t misread me. I really like my job. I have lots of fun writing and producing ads and doing all that it entails. But it’s just a great job, not a life.

My life is devoted to my family and birds. People fully understand the family thing, but they almost never understand the bird thing. You see, I’m a Birdwatcher. When I tell people that, they inevitably say, “You don’t look like a Birdwatcher. Birdwatchers are all old folks in Tilley hats!” That statement right there is what has driven me to be more creative than I have ever been before. Let me explain. Being an avid birder means I read birding books. One particular book was called Kingbird Highway. It’s the true story of a young man, Kenn Kaufman, that, in 1964, hitchhiked over 50, 000 miles all over North America trying to see as many birds as he could in one year. Smack in the middle of that book, a hippie chick picks him up and as they drive, she asks what he’s doing. He explains that he’s an avid birder and his quest is to see as many bird species as he can in 365 days. She replied something like, “You don’t look like a Birdwatcher.” That was 1964. The same stereotype still exists in 2011. My big idea, that has nothing to do with my advertising life, is to shatter, destroy, and completely obliterate that stereotype.

How? Well, I’m going to do exactly what Kenn did for North America except only in Ontario. I’m going to do a birding Big Year. The definition of a Big Year is to set a geographical area and spend 365 days trying to see as many birds as one can. Kenn chose all of North America, I’m only doing Ontario. How could my more modest effort possibly change the stereotype? I’m going to tattoo the Latin name of each and every bird species I see onto my body. A realistic goal is between 250 and 300 birds. Latin or scientific names of birds always consist of two words. That could be up to 600 words. It’s going to cover most of my body when I’m done. No little old lady in a Tilley hat would ever do that, now would she? And, get this, I plan on making a documentary film of the entire process. During that film I plan to present the birding world as it really is: an amazing array of unique individuals that are possessed by a love of birds. Some of whom are even little old ladies. Along the way I also plan to profile a few key people involved in bird conservation. My main goal is to destroy the stereotype of what birders are; secondly, I hope to show a younger generation that birding can be cool; and thirdly, I want to learn what it takes to make a documentary.

I have learned a great deal about many things. I’ve met some amazing people, seen some amazing birds – and the year is only half over. Now comes the advertising part. I’m learning about social media in a way speaking to someone or attending a conference can never do. I’m doing it. All by myself. With a budget of zero. I started a blog, Twitter account and a Facebook page. I have never used any of these mediums for promotion of something before. In a short time, I amassed over 300 followers on Twitter (Margaret Atwood among them), over 200 likes for my Facebook page (with steady interaction) and whenever I post to my blog (weekly), I get at significant spike in page views. The numbers aren’t huge but I’ve done all my social networking alone and when I made a tweet about whether or not I should pack up my twins and drive 1500 km to see one single bird only to drive right back again, I get several replies in minutes, sometimes seconds. Not bad for an old TV, print, and radio ad guy. All this learning I apply to my job every single day. And DDB knows how valuable this is to them. They are fully supportive of the project. I need to use my own vacation time to make emergency trips, but they have no problem with me working from the road, forest or even a swamp, while I chase a rare birds (some of my best ideas come to me away from the ad world).

So I beg all you creatives out there, stop thinking of awards and print and TV scripts and even stunts every night at 6 pm. Put your brain to something creative that is just for you. It’ll pay off in the end. You might even think a bit differently about advertising. One thing is for sure, you’ll be happy not to have any creative director, account person or client tell you if it’s the right thing; you’ll be the only one who knows that.

I already have an idea for another documentary that I plan to start in 2013. Go ahead, beat me to it.






  • http://twitter.com/thepaulriss Paul Riss

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. Nice work by Jon Murray at BBDO.

    http://www.999limbs.com/

  • http://www.lawrencemannino.com Lawrence Mannino

    Nice post – funny how we get into this business because it’s related to our creative passions, then sometimes it just becomes a job in a channel – for awhile, anyway – then you walk away for awhile (at least in your head) and rediscover how to play – that’s key, not childish, but childlike – and then it all works, once again – for me, anyway – kudos, and use a condensed font for the tats, just in case -

  • http://twitter.com/srminimo Flavio Alvarez

    Very nice article. I would hope that you never have to ask a creative to explore  and create outside of advertising, but sometimes people get in a rut and it’s good to have nice reminder of why we do things: Because we love to, Best of luck with your documentary.


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