By day, he’s a brand strategist who helps create and manage messaging for clients. By night, he’s a minivan-driving, five-kid-raising mega-dad who accidentally created his own brand.
Billy Ivey + a roll of paper towels + some Sharpies = Napkinisms, appearing in an Instagram feed near you.
Each morning, while the Ivey children (ages 7, 8, 10, 12, 15) are getting ready for school, he makes their lunches, each of which includes a napkin note.
“The goal is to make them laugh, or smile, or think,” Billy said. “I never really intended for this to be a thing. I posted one of the napkins a few weeks ago because I thought it was funny.”
Now a whole lot of people are laughing, smiling, and thinking as Billy’s Instagram feed (@wrivey) has seen a swift increase in followers – nearly 6,000 now, up from a few hundred six weeks ago. (Just search #NapkinNotes and see what we mean.)
“Putting notes in your kids’ lunches isn’t a new thing,” Billy said. “There are hundreds of thousands of parents doing the same thing every morning. Most of them probably aren’t writing the word ‘diarrhea’ very often, but still this is nothing new.”
Just as his mother did for him, Billy has tucked notes into his kids’ lunches for years, though he just started posting them to his personal Instagram feed a few weeks ago.
But there’s something about the way he does it that’s struck a chord with followers.
Among recent comments:
“I just found your account and this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. Please never stop doing this.” – @rhythemandashphotography
“People like you make life way more fun like it should be!” – @karleeness
“This one caught me off guard and made me tear up. Thanks for the unexpected feelings, jerk.” – @pastortonelektro
One morning, Billy got a nice bump in followers when his buddy, bestselling author Jon Acuff, reposted a couple of photos. And the numbers have steadily grown after that initial bump.
So have the comments. One fan in Texas, a bride-to-be, even told him he’s made her reconsider her decision to not have children.
But back to marketing. That’s what we do, right?
Although the napkin notes do infuse some clever turns of phrase and jokes one might use in crafting a presentation for a brand, Billy says he didn’t set out to make a brand. It just sort of happened.
In addition to his duties at Big, which include writing and strategy, Billy maintains a personal blog (Protagonist Theory) where he shares his thoughts on life and parenthood. (He would like to add, for the record, that his wife Bethany is amazing.) He’s been blogging since 2008, and his #NapkinNotes posts have resonated the most with the online audience.
So everyone is asking him, what’s next? A book? A Ted Talk?
“Of course, I’d love to write a book,” Billy said.“I think every writer wants that at some point,” he says. First he needs to chaperone a few dozen kids on a field trip, then he’ll figure it out.
Billy says he does need to be careful that he remains authentic in his napkin notes. Kids, after all, aren’t clients. And the reward from them is irreplaceable.
“I realized that I was on to something when I discovered that my ten-year-old was starting to keep them,” he said. “I found 20 or 30 in a shoebox under her bed. With these notes were birthday cards from her grandmother, notes from teachers, and other objects that meant something to her.”
There aren’t enough metrics in the world to measure that, but it sounds like success to us.