Chris Avantaggio had never really thought about advertising as a career. By chance, he took an intro to creative advertising course and soon realised the potential fun there was to be had in the industry. Fear not, though. He’s a hard worker too. He plunged head-first into his first placement as an intern at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and has since collated an esteemed portfolio. Outside of the industry, he also runs his own clothing brand, LiveME. Addison Capper spoke to Chris about surfing, skiing, hiking, biking and the campaign he made for nothing for The Salvation Army.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid?
CA> I grew up in mid-coast Maine in a town called Damariscotta. As a kid I was full of energy and never really sat still. I was really hands on with stuff and loved building things, which led to a pretty healthy obsession with LEGO and train sets. As I got older I really fell in love with sports and being outdoors, especially winter activities. By the age of 14 you couldn’t pull me off of my snowboard.
LBB> You attended the University of Colorado - what was the city of Boulder like as a place to be a student?
CA> Boulder was a really fun place to go to college. You have so much outdoor access there. Hiking, skiing, biking; it’s all at your fingertips. I think the access to all of that really fosters creativity. I particularly drew inspiration from the mountains. The views out there are incredible.
LBB> How did you wind up in the world of advertising?
CA> It happened by chance. I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to study in school, I was just kind of floating from elective to elective. I took an intro to creative advertising course taught by Jonathan Schoenberg, a creative director from TDA Boulder. He showed up and made the entire class laugh for 60 minutes. I had no idea how much fun advertising could be. I was hooked.
LBB> You've recently made the move from Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, to The VIA Agency in Portland. Why was the move the right one to take and what differences, both creative and general, do you see between the two cities?
CA> CP+B Boulder was a great place to get my feet wet. It was probably one of the most intense places to make a start in advertising, but it also made me appreciate how hard people in this industry work. When my internship ended I found myself really missing the east coast, especially the ocean and my girlfriend who lived in New York. So I decided to move back east. It turned out to be a very good move because we’re now married and I’m learning to surf.
Portland has also been a really great place for me to grow creatively, and I’ve had a lot of opportunity to do that at VIA.
I think Boulder and Portland actually have many similarities. You’ve got access to tons of outdoor activities right out your backdoor, great restaurants and microbreweries. They both have communities that support small business and buying local and both cities have a thriving music and arts scene. The biggest difference is probably the weather and the ocean. It’s waaay colder here in the winter.
LBB> A lot of your work explores different and innovative ways to exploit outdoors advertising, such as the Salvation Army 'This Ad Cost Nothing' campaign and Timberland 'Outdoor is Everywhere'. Why is this a medium that you enjoy exploring?
CA> I love outdoor and ambient work because it can be so unexpected. You get to try things that have never been done before and surprise the hell out of people. Some of the cleverest work I’ve ever seen has been outdoor. It doesn’t have to be large either; it’s just finding a creative way to play with your surroundings.
LBB> Which pieces of work are you most proud of and why?
CA> The Salvation Army campaign is work that I am very proud of. It was such a hard concept to convince the client to do. After we sold it, my partner and I had to hit the streets of Portland, going from business to business asking for ad space donations. Windows, tables, walls, bathroom mirrors – nothing was off limits. And then we had to actually produce the ads. Everyone at VIA worked so hard to pull it off – literally everyone. We had an assembly line of people coming in on lunch breaks to stamp pizza boxes and coffee sleeves, our recruiter lent her handwriting skills for hundreds of rocks and windows, we had our IT department hooking up makeshift ceiling projectors so we could trace onto 10’x15’ tarps, we even had co-workers donating their cars for dust graffiti. On top of that we had the whole community of Portland involved with donated ad space. It was work we all felt really good about and it was made entirely from scratch.
LBB> On top of working in advertising, you also have your own clothing brand, LiveME. Is it something you were always interested in or did it happen by chance? How much of your time is spent running it?
CA> It’s actually a funny story. It began as a single t-shirt design I created for some buddies attending the Maine Brewers Festival. Every year we would go to the event and wear bright orange so that we could find each other in the crowd. For the 2009 brewfest we wanted to wear something a little more ‘official’. I put together a design with the slogan ‘BeerME’ in the outline of the state of Maine and had a bunch of blaze orange tees made up. They were such a hit; a friend literally sold one off his back. I was inspired by people’s enthusiasm for the design, so I decided set up a website to sell the shirts. Six months later LiveME was born. I spend much of my nights and weekends working on the brand and get a lot of help from my wife and family.
LBB> You also dabble in poster and miscellaneous design work. Is art and design something you also enjoy doing in your spare time? What else do you get up to outside of work?
CA> I do enjoy design, especially poster art and logo design. I often use family events or a friend’s bachelor party as an excuse to design a fun logo. I’m also a huge fan of typography.
When I’m not busy working, I love just getting outdoors and spending time with my wife and son. Family time is super important to me. Snowboarding has also been a huge passion of mine and something I plan on doing until my knees give out—and then I’ll probably have to get better at surfing.
LBB> Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?
CA> I want to still be enjoying what I’m doing now – creating, designing, adventuring and learning. Hopefully I’ll be helping others in some way too. I think great creative directors are able to do all that. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll be running my own business.