Here's proof that a dumb idea can lead to amazing things.
I enjoy watching sports and I enjoy tweeting while watching sports. For people who don't like to watch sports, but enjoy Twitter, huge sporting events can make their favorite social platform unbearable.
It's also very difficult not to be negative on social media during sporting events. A play doesn't go the way we want it, a coach makes a mistake or a referee misses a call. We want to tweet profanities directly at them, make sure the entire team knows how worthless they are, or point out how stupid opposing teams look. Often we treat these people badly with our words, as if the amount of money they earn or the level of fame they have makes them immune.
During the 2015 NFL season, I decided that while watching my Carolina Panthers, I would only tweet Panther emoji. I would take the Panthers' logo, and draw it in silly poses that would reflect what was going on during the game. Using emoji instead of words would take the sting out of a negative situation, and give those on Twitter who don't care about sports, something silly to look at.
The first few started out very simply, and as the season progressed, the illustrations would get more complex. I would usually do 6-10 illustrations before every game and have them queued up, ready to go by kickoff. By the end of the season and playoffs, I had created 120 or so. It was tremendous fun, and I'll never do it again.
During the season, Ryan Kalil invited me and a few friends to see the new Star Wars movie together. For those who don't know Ryan, he plays center for the Panthers and is a very creative person. He writes, he draws, he does photography, wears a bear suit and is a big supporter of local artists here in Charlotte. I'm fortunate to count him as a friend. So, leading up to the new Star Wars movie, I decided it would be funny for my emoji that week to be Star Wars related.
After the game, Ryan contacted me and asked if I'd be up for making some t-shirts using the Chewbacca/Panthers logo for our Star Wars viewing party. Now, anyone who has ever screen-printed t-shirts before knows that the minimum order for shirts is like 7 billion. So, as we talked, the idea quickly went from making a cool party favor to selling them online for charity.
Now, it has to be said that the original Twitter version of Purrbacca was done very quickly and was very low-res. The Purrbacca that appeared on the t-shirt would be redrawn in vector... so to all of those who bootlegged our shirt based on my Tweet... it's the wrong Purrbacca. LOL TO YOU. IN YOUR FACE. *High-fives myself*
The absolute best way to promote anything these days is to have a superstar athlete put on your product and have them share it online. So that's what happened. We had a quick prototype made and began passing it around to a few of the Panthers players to share via Twitter, Facebook etc.
Meanwhile, we selected the charity, Greg Olsen's "The Heartest Yard" that works with Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte and the vendor, Dapper Ink who would be expected to manage a high volume of well-produced shirts and offer a turnkey storefront that would allow people to quickly and easily purchase shirts and have them in-hand before the start of the playoffs. We planned all of this in about 2 days? Maybe 3. Felt more like 1.
The Star Wars viewing party took place on December 17, we started sharing pictures of the shirt online December 18 and by the end of the week, we had sold almost 7000 shirts. I originally told Dapper Ink to "prepare for 500". I'm glad they didn't listen to me. NO ONE EVER DOES.
During the frantic production, I had the opportunity to visit Dapper Ink and watch the production. They were amazing and got the job done right and on time. I took at LOT of selfies and didn't help out at all. Screw them. I did the art.
In the end, we raised almost $70,000 for The Heartest Yard and Levine's and the best part is that they didn't have to invest much time or effort. The fans supported this campaign 100% and it was astounding. It's very humbling and gratifying to see your work being appreciated by so many people. I had no idea that Purrbacca would receive so much support. The shirt was featured on ESPN, NBC, the NFL, New York Times, Bleacher Report, all the local news channels, papers, blogs, and podcasts in a matter of 24 hours. It was surreal. It's the dumbest, most amazing thing I've ever made. I loved seeing all of the photos tagged with "#purrbacca". I've had the very good fortune of working on other marks with wide audiences, but this one was special.
I was asked to do interviews and more interviews. I had no idea what to say. "I draw'd a star wars man and my famous football buddy made it popular and the Panthers gave me lots of love and then the fans gave more love". That's pretty much the truth. I should have just said that.
Months have passed since the season ended and I still see Purrbacca appear every now and again. I hope that people will wear them for the next 50 years. I hope that the people who bought a shirt remember how great the 2015 season was and what a great team the Carolina Panthers are. I mean, name another team that would have supported this? It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I will cherish it forever.
Purrbacca wouldn’t have happened without Ryan Kalil’s vision. When you get to know Ryan and then meet other people within the organization, you see his personality and spirit in all of them. They all want to be like Ryan. I’ve followed this team since 1995 and I have decided that when Ryan Kalil finally retires, he will be the greatest Panther we’ve ever had. It's true.
I would encourage you (and myself) to keep making things. Big things. Little things. Silly things. Dumb things. Don't wait for permission or for it to make 100% sense. Just make whatever it is that makes sense to you and then move on to the next idea. A dumb idea can lead to amazing things. I am proof.