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Building the Ernest Packaging Solutions brand with fearlessness and fun

Our CEO, Scott Gardner, along with our long-standing clients at Ernest Packaging Solutions, recorded a podcast with the supply chain management leader Afflink. In this zinger-filled episode, the “The E-Team,” AKA Tim Wilson, President, and Brian Porter, VP of Client Relations, of Ernest Packaging—alongside Scott Gardner—give host Michael Wilson a walk down memory lane, and a true taste of the Ernest quirk.

Studio 1400 Podcast–Episode 1–December 17, 2019

The original podcast is available on Spotify and Google Podcasts, as well as published on Ernest Packaging Solutions and AFFLINK.

So, what’s the operative question for these three bad boys of branding?

How do you make people notice a family-run company in a Rust Belt industry? That’s easy. Just do something no one’s ever seen before. Like make the impossible out of paper, call it Cardboard Chaos, then invite Tony Hawk to ride your paper skate on his halfpipe. Or maybe have your VP of Talent interview a sheep, a porcupine and a cartoon wolf for your recruitment campaign? You could even transform your leadership team into The E-Team: a squad of packaging mercenaries who are dauntless in the face of a challenge. Sit down with Tim Wilson, Brian Porter and Scott Gardner and listen to how Ernest rises above the marketing noise. And get an earful of fun in the process.

Listen and learn how Ernest Packaging Solutions defied the odds of economic downturn and the rise of e-commerce by leveraging quirk and creating a brand—plus a surfboard made from corrugated cardboard.

Ernest Cardboard Chaos campaign is a resounding success

In the podcast, Scott talks about how we took Ernest Packaging Solutions and its cardboard designs to a whole new level with the Cardboard Chaos campaign. Our latest creation—a drum kit made entirely out of cardboard with Masters of Maple—that shows its mettle when played by Stone Temple Pilots’ drummer Eric Kretz.

The drums follow previous Cardboard Chaos innovations that include an authenticated cardboard Fender Stratocaster, a cardboard skateboard that stood up to a Tony Hawk vert ramp session, a surfboard wave tested on the beaches of Los Angeles and a snowboard for the Signal Snowboard team.

The idea behind the series, created by Liquid in partnership with Signal Productions, is to demonstrate how Ernest Packaging is moving the packaging industry forward with a focus on innovation, solving very unique design challenges for everyday objects. The fact that the company is making these objects with cardboard—and they work—is unbelievable.

Interested in campaign work? Let’s talk.


Full transcript of the episode (may contain typos and/or transcription errors)

Michael Wilson: Welcome to studio 1400, where today’s influencers gather to share market insights with the Afflink family. I’m your host, Michael Wilson, and I’m asking you to sit back and enjoy the ride as we listen, learn, and of course laugh to the voices that make our industry great.

Michael Wilson: All right, so in the Afflink studio today we’ve got some very special guests, celebrities, one might in fact call them in the packaging industry. Three members of the E-Team, we’ve got Tim Cornflake Wilson.

Tim Wilson: Hello.

Michael Wilson: We’ve got Brian Porterhouse Porter.

Brian Porter: Thank you.

Michael Wilson: And of course Scott Johnny Vegas Gardner.

Scott Gardner: What up?

Michael Wilson: So welcome guys. Thanks for coming to 1400 Afflink Place, to spend a little time with us. Scott, you’ve been working with these guys for how many years?

Scott Gardner: 12 years. Seems like 50.

Michael Wilson: And how did that relationship start?

Tim Wilson: Rocky.

Scott Gardner: Yeah. I spoke at a conference at Nike about branding and Mr. Tim Wilson was in the audience and he came up and harassed me in the food line. And handed me a card and begged me to come to LA.

Tim Wilson: And my wonderful one liners.

Scott Gardner: Sat on my desk for a while and I finally said, maybe I should visit this company. And I walked in, I was like, wow.

Michael Wilson: So you went from Nike and Silicon Valley to a paper and packaging [crosstalk 00:01:43].

Scott Gardner: It’s called [crosstalk] Paper Company at the time. Yeah.

Michael Wilson: So what intrigued you about that?

Scott Gardner: I have no idea. I just found it to be, it was just something told me you’re in LA-

Brian Porter: Holding his family hostage was helpful.

Scott Gardner: Yeah. I don’t know. I just felt, I was in LA and I thought, well, I’ll go visit him. And then when I walked in and saw the operation at corporate, 350,000 square foot warehouse, people walking around it appeared very efficient. And I was like, wow, this is interesting business, learn about the history. And then we’re like, okay, now what do we do?

Michael Wilson: And Tim, what sort of intrigued you about working with Liquid and Scott’s team?

Tim Wilson: Well, it all goes back to frankly in 2008, when the recession hit and everything was just thrown on, off keel and we had to learn and figure out what to do to succeed. And the basic problem we had as a distributor is: how do we sell someone else’s brand but promote our brand at the same time?

Michael Wilson: Right, which is kind of a quandary.

Tim Wilson: Even to today, right? And so literally I went in search of this and when Scott spoke at the summit, at the Nike presentation, he challenged all of us. He had some questionnaires and frankly, I just knew right away that he was the guy that I should have on my board of directors and really become the visionary moving forward. And literally I stalked him in line and came up to him and probably just freaked him out. But the knife wasn’t that sharp that I was just forcing on him.

Michael Wilson: Just poked him a bit.

Tim Wilson: A little bit.

Michael Wilson: Right. Just drew a little blood. Well before we get into all of the success of the E-Team that you guys are embarked on now. Let’s talk a little bit about the cardboard chaos. That sort of, I guess was the initial jumping off for a lot of your video content that’s gone viral over the years. So when did that, when did you guys first launch that? Tim?

Tim Wilson: So this goes again back to a brand and how we move forward. And the cardboard chaos was actually a very fortunate, actually goes back to my neighbor who is Signal Snowboards and they were trying to differentiate themselves from Burton, everyone else. And so they created this episode called every third Thursday, where they would do innovative new snowboards. And they came to us about a recyclable snowboard that they actually were thinking of selling to the slopes, where you would basically rent a recycled snowboard that was sustainable and you’d use it for the day and then you’d throw it away.

Michael Wilson: Oh, a disposable snowboard. Wow.

Tim Wilson: Right. And we were challenged by it and we didn’t expect it to go this, but it served us in so many ways. It showed our creativity, our design. But it also served a wonderful purpose in the world because it was totally recyclable.

Michael Wilson: And that was the first of the series was the snowboard?

Tim Wilson: Correct.

Brian Porter: It was Signal’s project, every third Thursday. And then we said, wow, this is unique enough. And this is where Liquid came back and said, this is something we might want to jump off on. So we went back to Signal and said, hey, can we re edit this down to be [Ernestize 00:00:05:15]? And they said, yeah. And then we kept having Dave be the host of the program.

Tim Wilson: And Dave’s the founder.

Brian Porter: And he’s the founder of it. And so that’s, it started with the snowboard, then it was a surfboard.

Michael Wilson: Right. So how many, episodes would you call them?

Scott Gardner: Well it’s usually, it’s a content series, so we’ll create like snowboard was first and then we did a surfboard, then we did a kid’s pushbike, a recyclable pushbike because there was a client. Then we did Tony Hawk’s skate, and we eventually got into Fender guitar.

Scott Gardner: So the irony of this series, I believe is while that was going on with Tim, I was trying to find a way to create a content series about their innovation and design with clients. So we were trying to get into clients and find out how to tell stories. And to be honest, in some cases they just weren’t, to use the term, they just weren’t that sexy. So I was like, well, so it’s kind of like design and innovation with a small D and a small I. It’s really important. But the stories just didn’t seem, so we didn’t produce anything. And then Tim and I were having dinner and he said, well, I have this neighbor and he wants to produce a paper snowboard. And I was like, well, that’s something. And then we put that out there and we had 100,000 views within 30 days.

Michael Wilson: On the snowboard?

Scott Gardner: On snowboard, that was the first one with very little promotion. And at the time we were happy if we were getting thousands of views a year on our videos.

Michael Wilson: So you have the pushbike and then the Fender guitar, right? That you mentioned…

Scott Gardner: Surfboard was right after pushbike. And that got hundreds of thousands of views.

Michael Wilson: Oh, right on.

Scott Gardner: And then we said, now we’re really onto something. And then we did Tony Hawk’s skate and that one was, that was the first time we started looking at the power of the Ernest brand and its story. The interesting at the content and then who else is associated with, it’s with Tony Hawk-

Michael Wilson: Right, adding an influencer.

Scott Gardner: Yeah, we got an influencer. We’ve got Tony Hawk to give us a couple shout outs. So that went over a million views.

Michael Wilson: It did.

Scott Gardner: And then we’re like, wow, now we’re really onto something. And then Fender, which is still my favorite, is just such a dynamic story. And that went over 3 million views in the first 90 days. And that is probably a bar that’s, that one just went over and above any expectation.

Michael Wilson: So speaking to that, when you create these, do you have any expectations? Do you set any expectations? Or are you just like, hey, let’s put the content out there and go.

Scott Gardner: Well, I think we have our own expectations because we want to jump over the last one, which I think once you hit the level that Fender has, which is over 5 million now, it’s a pretty tough one to do. And that was also done mainly organic. Today’s world, you have to pay to get content seen, back then we had a pretty strong, we still have a strong organic engine, but you’re still seeing less returns without putting the investment behind your content.

Michael Wilson: Got ya. So Fender’s your favorite.

Scott Gardner: Yes.

Michael Wilson: What about you guys? Brian?

Brian Porter: Each one becomes my favorite but I think I go back to the Fender one because of Linkin Park. And then Chester passing shortly after the release of it.

Michael Wilson: That’s right.

Brian Porter: That was really powerful-

Michael Wilson: I forgot about that, yeah.

Brian Porter: Yeah, that was powerful. And they still, I mean they have that guitar. The second one makes it a tour and stuff. But the main one that Mike Martinez helped design with Fender, it’s locked at Fender. It has a certification from: made by Fender. It’s really cool.

Michael Wilson: That’s really cool, yeah.

Brian Porter: That’s awesome.

Scott Gardner: Plus when you look at lift, right? Think about the other lift we got, we had Smithsonian call and want to see if they could get a guitar. We had, we were at South by Southwest in the paper and packaging boards, right in the front. People want these artifacts. So hey almost tour like they’re-

Michael Wilson: Like a rock star.

Scott Gardner: They are. Yeah.

Michael Wilson: What about you Tim?

Tim Wilson: I hate, I think the greatest, for me the most important thing is the greatest engineering challenge now. And the drum set was, took three years. Because it was so hard to do it and it’s a complete drum set. And we had Eric from Stone Temple Pilots. But what makes it so much more fun is the fact that we’re getting people coming to us saying, hey, can you do this? And these are celebrities coming to us. Tony Hawk actually came to us and said, if you do this, I’ll ride it. And we were really scared because if it broke while he’s doing the [crosstalk 00:09:38]. Yeah. We don’t want to be known for killing Tony.

Michael Wilson: That’d get you a lot of views. And a lot of hate mail. So you’ve got these marketing investments that help promote your brand, your culture, that sort of thing. But how do you translate those views and that reach into growth, into sales dollars, into growing your business?

Tim Wilson: Oh we can’t just play?

Michael Wilson: Well, it’s working. It’s a good recipe, I would presume.

Tim Wilson: My father has asked me that question every day incidentally.

Michael Wilson: Does he really?

Scott Gardner: Yeah, he does.

Michael Wilson: I saw him playing the drums though. Is this really paying off, this whole thing that we’re doing here?

Scott Gardner: Well, I think the great thing is when you’re working with a client and a brand and [inaudible] to Tim and Ernest’s leadership, they’re making a long tail investment on brand. And a lot of companies just don’t have the vision, brand is a longterm play, value, all the ancillary benefits. I mean one thing we noticed early on when this company’s gone from over 300 people to over 500 people and completely overhauled its management, is a lot of leadership was coming and saying, I found out about you because of the snowboard or the guitar or another content piece and saying, I want to work for a company that does things like that.

Michael Wilson: So it’s a recruiting tool.

Scott Gardner: It’s been a little bit of everything. Right, it’s been media, extended media. We’ve grown our social committees to a pretty large and our own media channels are in the tens of thousands now. So we have the ability to get messages out.

Scott Gardner: The next stage though for us is because of all the paid requirements to move, next year we’re going to be moving to shift more investment balance between creating content and actually paying to get it out there. Because we’ve got to pay to play.

Michael Wilson: Sure, as in every mature outlet I guess?

Scott Gardner: Right. I mean, we had the luxury of a pretty good run-up of organic though, and we were named social media marker of the year by the packaging industry two years ago. So we feel like we’ve made a good mark.

Tim Wilson: And a credit to Scott too. I mean we’ve won six Addy’s now, we won regional too. So, I mean it’s really been a great partnership with Scott and his team as well.
Scott Gardner: Yeah. For Liquid Agency, we’ve won the Silicon Valley ad awards “Best of Show three of the last four years. And we have great clients: Walmart, Nike, all these clients. And we’ve won it three of the last four years with Ernest projects, a packaging company. And we’ve actually one of the Rosie’s in Portland, which is a very tough market with Wieden and Kennedy and Nike. And we just won for a-

Tim Wilson: Nike who?

Scott Gardner: E-Team and not hiring. So it’s pretty amazing the level of the respect the work is getting in the industry.

Michael Wilson: Yeah. It’s cool people, doing cool things and people gravitate toward that.

Brian Porter: Well, it’s Liquid pushing us. Because when Scott came to us, you’re a packaging company, but with Tim going, I want to be a relevant company, I don’t want to just be a packaging company. I want to be Coca-Cola, whatever. And then so pulling that from us and then challenging us with, how do we make it better every year? Is something that’s exciting. And that’s what keeps happening is like, we’re not, everyone, hey, we’re a distributor. We sell boxes and tape and everything else. But we don’t, I mean we are throwing the brand out there. Scott and the team at Liquid keep challenging us with meetings and there’s usually some libations that are involved with that. But we come up with some amazing stuff that we just riff on and there we go.

Michael Wilson: So speaking of cool people, is there anything cooler than the E-Team out there today?

Brian Porter: E-Team Two.

Michael Wilson: We’re going to get to that. So Brian, talk to us about how fun it is working on set with these guys and filming those.

Brian Porter: It’s not that fun.

Michael Wilson: It looks terrible.

Brian Porter: In the first E-Team one they had me suspended and I guess what we’d call our stunt coordinator guy who was there goes, we had a, someone, I don’t remember the actor’s name, he goes, he was in it for like 10 minutes and started crying like a baby at one of those circus of the stars type of thing. And they had me just suspended up in the warehouse for half an hour.

Michael Wilson: Really?

Brian Porter: Up and down. I mean, it was the first E-Team we did it in what? Technically three working days that we actually film. But we were climbing up to the roof. We’re running across our roof. Do this, do that. We’re all in costume and stuff like that-

Scott Gardner: No stunt people were available at all.

Brian Porter: No stunt people.

Scott Gardner: Do your own stunts.

Brian Porter: It was a short window that we had to get everything done and we’re not actors. So we just went out and did it.

Tim Wilson: But Scott wouldn’t let us take the van and drive it off the dock, which we wanted to get some air.

Brian Porter: And then we said, can we just go really fast off the ramp?

Scott Gardner: It was a rental.

Brian Porter: I know.

Michael Wilson: Then by all means, you should have done it.

Brian Porter: Drive it like you stole it.

Michael Wilson: I love that you guys think of literally everything in these campaigns from the LinkedIn profiles that you guys have, to the Facebook pages that Porterhouse has.

Scott Gardner: Bobble heads.

Michael Wilson: And even the bobble heads, right? Which I have now in my office.

Scott Gardner: Bobble heads frenzy.

Brian Porter: Yeah, bobble head frenzy.

Michael Wilson: So I’ve got a Tim Wilson and a Brian Porter bobble head in…And I also have the van, right? Which is kind of cool.

Scott Gardner: The Johnny Vegas ones are coming but they’re special edition.

Michael Wilson: Are they? Nice.

Scott Gardner: We’ll get you one though.

Michael Wilson: Extra bobble head. So, I got to admit though, the van kind of reminds me of the Mystery Machine, right? So I think maybe you guys-

Tim Wilson: Scooby Doo.

Michael Wilson: Maybe you guys should do a Scooby Doo one next time. [crosstalk 00:15:18].

Scott Gardner: Well, we have the E-Team Two coming out in early next year in February. And we do have a new vehicle. I can’t give it away here on the podcast, but you can see it soon online. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

Michael Wilson: So who would be Shaggy?

Scott Gardner: Brian probably.

Michael Wilson: It’d have to be Porter.

Brian Porter: I’d be Scrappy.

Scott Gardner: His cousin? Tim would be Freddy.

Tim Wilson: Totally.

Michael Wilson: Yeah man. You could get a dog, you could go get the dog from Air Bud. Remember that movie that played basketball? That’d be awesome.

Scott Gardner: Oh yeah. We know the guy who produced those series. Yeah, he made a lot of money producing Air Bud one, two, three, four. He has one with a monkey too.

Michael Wilson: So you guys have won some awards for that as well, right, for E-Team?

Scott Gardner: Yeah, we won, in fact we took home a Rosie in Portland last year. And a Rosie, as I said, it’s a really competitive market because the Portland advertising market with Wieden and all the action brands up there is tough. And yeah, we won for E-Team and there was only five Rosie’s given out. Those are the best of class of different categories and we walked away with one. And I was actually, I was stunned because we’ve been in the Portland market for 12 years and it’s really competitive.

Michael Wilson: Is it?

Scott Gardner: Yeah, it’s tough.

Tim Wilson: I think it might be also good for people to understand why the E-Team, and Scott could probably elaborate that. And then our pivotal switch and E-Team Two, which is going to be a little bit different, but still just as crazy. To give you a hint with a Turkey Vulture, just saying.

Brian Porter: Gas masks.

Scott Gardner: Yeah. I mean we realize going into, every year we do annual planning and we looked at going into 18 and we said, we’ve got all these content series and they all have a specific purpose, whether it’s showing off design and innovation or just getting awareness for the brand. But we didn’t have anything that was really tied to solutions. And as a packaging distributor, because we’re commodity based, we needed to find a way to get solutions out there. So we were just riffing with our creative team on what we could do. And they were Ernest and we were like, Oh, E-Team. We thought, we were inspired by the A-Team. We decided not to have a Mr. T in this one. And then it came this whole kind of cop, fun docudrama of the seventies, right? And eighties and then we just started riffing these ideas.

Tim Wilson: Then there was alcohol.

Scott Gardner: Yeah. And then we had some drinks and wrote some scripts and concepts and then decided to shoot it. And these two became the leads and their acting capabilities are getting better each film.

Michael Wilson: Yeah. Each one though, I mean I got to tell you the quality, it’s like a little movie. It really is. Even the acting.

Scott Gardner: Yeah. So the first one set the stage for, we had just reorganized all of our offerings under four solution halos. So we built four films, each for a solution. This year the series that’s coming out is attacking really more core issues that are happening, like e-commerce, sustainability. So we’re really building series now that show off kind of almost special topics and pretty excited about that.

Michael Wilson: Okay. So more to come on E-Team Two is what you’re calling it?

Scott Gardner: Yes. Got it.

Tim Wilson: I think the world debut is scheduled-

Scott Gardner: February 5th, 2020.

Michael Wilson: Wow, you heard it here first folks.

Scott Gardner: So we’re going to go live. Yeah, we’re going to have a live event and then we’ll probably do some live out and then the campaign will be out all over our digital properties.

Michael Wilson: Cool. While you guys are here in the studios talking to the merging executives group about marketing and digital marketing specifically. And there’s really no better member in our organization that does that like you guys do. So kudos on all the success. Look forward to the E-Team Two. Final question for you guys. Who comes up with these ideas? What’s the process like? I mean this is-

Brian Porter: So here’s what happens. It starts with a meeting with Scott, Tim, and I, maybe one other Liquid person. Usually not, it’s the three. And then there’s a component called something and soda and that sits there and we have two or three of those because it’s like three or four, sometimes five. Then Scott goes back to his team at Liquid and then they take our little things that we’ve been shooting out and we go on tangents. Tim and I will just start going and Scott’s like-

Scott Gardner: I have no idea.

Brian Porter: Do this and do that.

Scott Gardner: Explosions, cars.

Brian Porter: Yeah, explosions. What we call our client automated specialist, Tim and I for three months, we’re calling him Assman, automated system specialists. But it was Kramer.

Tim Wilson: Giddy up. Assman.

Scott Gardner: So we changed that name.

Brian Porter: Yeah, so he brings it all together. His team does and then they come back and then we go back and forth. And Tim will say, I hate it. Go away and come back with something better.

Scott Gardner: I think it’s good I have raised three children so I could manage these two as well. When they’re in there, it’s amazing they’re running a big company. But I think the greatest thing about it and maybe it’s the fact that Tim went to Beverly Hills High School, he’s from LA. But the entertainment aspect, I mean Brian I think is certified an actor by now. He could act better than most of the actors we hire. The energy they have around, and a lot of it’s pop culture based. It’s great. You’re riffing on pop culture and we’re just having a lot of fun. And I think the great thing about this brand is we want to be authentic and we always, everything we do has to have a piece that we call the Ernest quirk. So internally I was like, where’s the quirk? And that’s just, that could be a copy line. It could be an Easter egg hidden in something. We just got to have a quirk in everything we do, that’s on brand.

Michael Wilson: Because that’s who you are.

Scott Gardner: Yeah, for sure.

Brian Porter: Absolutely.

Scott Gardner: Well it’s commendable, that’s for sure. And kudos on all the success and more to come. And I just hope to never run into Porterhouse in a dark alley, anywhere. Guy looks mean. Thank you gentlemen for coming in today.

Scott Gardner: Thanks.

Tim Wilson: Thank you very much.

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