From pitching baseballs in Portland Oregon to pitching ideas in Tokyo, Andrew Miller’s career trajectory has not been conventional. If we were given to making outrageous puns we might even say that life has thrown this aspiring sportsman something of a curveball. After joining Wieden+Kennedy 12, Miller’s creative talent was nurtured by the likes of Susan Hoffman and Byron Oshiro. Before long he was off to work on his dream brief for Nike Pacific Asia. Most recently Miller was involved in Nike’s RUN Like ME campaign, and outside of agency life his personal projects span illustration, poetry, music and more. We caught up with the man better known to his friends as ‘Oyl’.
LBB> You pursued a career as a professional baseball player - how did you make the jump from baseball to agency creative?
AM> From the age of seven, I only wanted to be one thing - a professional baseball player. After college I was lucky enough to have a major league try out. I performed well, threw the ball 95 miles an hour and figured I had my foot in the door. The scouts said that I had the talent, but not the right body type. They said I was too skinny, and so my playing career abruptly came to an end. I had no backup plan, but I had always worked on creative projects as a way to unwind from the pressures of competitive sports. I packaged up my favourite projects and submitted them to Wieden+Kennedy 12, the in-house creative school at the agency’s Portland headquarters. They saw something they liked and I was admitted into the one-year program. W+K 12 was led by Susan Hoffman and Byron Oshiro; they really worked with me to focus my diverse creative interests and taught me how they could be applied to the world of advertising.
LBB> Where does the nickname 'Oyl' come from?
AM> When I was in college, I played in a pretty competitive intramural basketball league. In my first year, our freshman house team made it to the championship game against the defending champion upperclassmen house. Over the course of the game (which we ended up losing) the other team trash-talked me, calling me ‘Olive Oyl’ because they thought I looked like Popeye’s girlfriend. After the game I embraced the nickname, had it printed on a shirt and a lot of people I know have called me that ever since.
LBB> Do you find your experience as a sportsman influences your creative process?
AM> I view the creative process from a very competitive point of view. I always feel the need to be ‘in training’ and therefore I work on many small personal projects to keep sharp and in practice. When the client brief comes along, it’s game time. I try to bring the hustle and determination to creativity that used to serve me well on the playing field. Mainly, I try to compete with myself. I don’t want to repeat myself and I want the quality of my output to be better and more surprising each time. Being an athlete forces you to become your own toughest critic. That definitely applies to my attitude towards my advertising work.
LBB> When did you move out to Japan - how long have you been out there?
AM> I moved to Japan in 2008 after a stint working on Nike Basketball out of the Wieden Portland office. Wieden Tokyo was looking for an athletic voice to work on Nike Asia Pacific at the time and I eagerly answered their call.
LBB> How does agency culture differ between Portland and Tokyo?
AM> The Wieden Tokyo office is much smaller than the Portland office, so it ends up feeling a lot more ‘family style’. When we have agency meetings, we can all fit in one room. We get together every one or two months and throw an all agency party; you really end up getting to know everyone. In Portland, because there are around 500 people working in one building, you end up hanging out with certain pockets, but can’t get to know everyone on a more intimate level.
LBB> How do you think your experiences in Japan have influenced you as a creative?
AM> Working and living in Japan has forced me to think more ‘iconically’ about what I create. Tokyo especially is such a visually hyperactive culture that you need to come up with simple, unexpected executions that cut through the clutter. Being in Japan has sharpened my ability to think conceptually and to really nail the idea before moving on to execution.
LBB> Most recently you worked on the Nike RUN Like ME project - how did that project come about and what were the most challenging elements of the project?
We started with the basic premise of trying to find the simplest motivation for someone to hit the Facebook ‘Like’ button. It started out at as almost a joke. What if we had this interactive Facebook runner, who would run 100 metres every time someone hit the ‘Like’ button? Luckily over the course of developing the campaign and the system behind it, we were able to keep it simple.
On top of this premise, we wanted to find a candidate who could physically run all of the Likes and also bring their own twist to the daily content. We were aware of this social running pioneer living in Tokyo named Joseph Tame. He was famous for having run a giant GPS Apple logo the day after Steve Jobs passed away. We approached Joseph to see if he was up for joining Nike RUN Like ME and luckily he was. He was a phenomenal partner, who became the face and spirit of the campaign. Also, I think he makes for one of the most unusual spokesmen Nike has ever had, so it is very satisfying to have seen that come to fruition. The most challenging part of the campaign was coming up with daily content that would keep things fresh and keep engaged. Luckily we got flooded with ‘Likes’ early on, so we didn't need to worry about Joseph running out of mileage.
LBB> As well as writing you're also pretty musical and do illustration - why is it important for you to be creative across so many different media?
AM> Basically I can’t help it. Having a variety of projects going on has always been my outlet. It used to help me deal with the stress of playing competitive sports; now I see these projects as my outlet to express the purest form of me. I am really excited by the prospects of DIY digital culture. I have always loved self-publishing my work, and it is amazing how much you can do right now. I can sit down, open up GarageBand and in a month have an album for sale on iTunes. The traditional gatekeepers are gone and it feels like anything is possible for the DIY artist, writer or musician. I love that freedom. On top of that, keeping my mind limber and able to move across mediums is valuable to my day job at Wieden+Kennedy. The deliverables for a given campaign have never been more open than they are right now. You have campaigns that live entirely on Facebook or Pinterest. If you are going to pitch campaigns for these different playing fields, you’d better know something about them.
LBB> Where do you find inspiration?
AM> I find inspiration everywhere: in Tokyo, in sports, old baseball cards, team pennants, going to museums, checking out t-shirt shops and scanning pop culture. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of illustrations based on Instagrams. I find the convergence of our digital and analogue lives fascinating. There are so many new combinations to be tried out, and I am eager to experiment with those emerging possibilities.
LBB> In terms of illustration, how would you characterise your work?
AM> I would call it graphic DIY pop art. I try to bring a strong sense of design to my illustration work. I love to create hand drawn typography that is rooted in classic typography and then give it a uniquely DIY flavour. I embrace imperfections and find points of interest in rough lines and the unevenness of shapes. I’ve been able to draw illustrations of some of my favourite sports heroes for various Nike projects. I like capturing top athletes like LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo in ways that people don’t expect. It’s always special when I can combine my personal art with a great brand and reach a wider audience. I would love to start getting more opportunities like that. If I could make sports pop art forever, that would be a pretty good life.