The napkin story, part 1

I’m going to start blogging over at You should go there, because you will be able to read this (and other stuff, I suppose. Later.):

The napkin story, part 1

I’m in the advertising business. I’ve been trying to help build brands and tell other people’s stories for almost two decades. It’s a fun, exciting, job, but finding that thing — that something — that speaks to people, makes a connection, and somehow resonates with an audience, isn’t always easy. Some people spend an entire career looking for that one, big win. The one campaign or even a single headline that makes people think or act or share something meaningful with their friends.

I started out as a junior copywriter working for churches and faith-based organizations back in 1998. For about three years, I found myself saying the same things in different ways, over and over and over again. Ask me about my personal relationship with Christ and I can go all day long, but selling Jesus is different. I wasn’t very good at it. So, I moved. Again and again and again.

Throughout the years, I’ve moved from agency to agency – from Birmingham to Greenville to Nashville and Atlanta and a couple of places in between. Non-stop searching for that something.

have been able to do some cool stuff over the years. I’ve written for everything from hospitals to orange juice; Mexican restaurants to halogen headlamps; motor oil to suntan oil; and even chicken sandwiches. I’ve worked on mom and pop brands, local, regional, national, and even international accounts. I’ve been fortunate to win some awards, have a few things show up in national magazines, on the radio, and one TV spot just ran during the Grammy’s a couple of months back, which was kind of cool.

But most of the stuff I write ends up in a folder on my desktop, or in the nearest trashcan. It’s a humbling profession – trying to impact people with words. But I’m always writing. Always creating. Always trying to find that thing.

I started putting notes in my kids’ lunch boxes a couple of years ago. It’s just a fun-something to make them laugh, smile, or think. They love it when I do this. I found out recently that my 11 year old has been collecting the notes for a long time. She probably has 150 of them in a shoebox under her dresser.

Anyway, last year, I wrote a note that I thought was particularly insightful, so I took a picture of it and posted it to Instagram and Facebook.


The next day’s note was full of wisdom, too, so I posted it as well: YOU MIGHT NOT BE AS SMART AS YOUR SISTER, BUT SHE CAN’T EAT GLUTEN, SO YOU WIN! You can probably see now why my daughter keeps them all, huh?

But, then, other people started sharing them. A lot of people. After a couple of weeks of posting these Napkinisms, my Instagram account blew up, and the napkinnotes album on my Facebook page started getting shared over and over and over again. I had friends and family in other parts of the world sending me messages that they’d seen these stupid things shared by friends of friends of friends in Kansas, California, Little Rock, Michigan, and towns in Texas I’ve never even heard of.

Are you kidding me? These notes – wherein the key messages include topics such as diarrhea, vomit, poop, boogers, toenail clippings, and subtle jabs at my wife’s cooking – were kind of going viral. I now have more than 10,000 followers Instagram. The album on Facebook has been shared more than 50,000 times. There’s a Napkinisms fan page with over 6,000 followers. Individual posts are being shared thousands of times. Bloggers are posting about these things. Women’s Day Magazine even wrote a piece about it.

Now, as a marketing guy, I became somewhat obsessed with trying to understand why and how these notes could quite possibly go down as some of the most influential writing I’ve ever created. It’s fairly safe to say that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have seen these silly napkins. These people are crazy, right? YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY!

But then I started actually reading the comments and reactions people were posting online, and it began to make a little more sense.

(to be continued)


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