This Ad Guy Found the Most Literal Way to Think Outside the Box

Whit Hiler revisits years of his old notebook pages

- Credit by Whit Hiler

Whit Hiler, creative director at Lexington, Ky., agency Cornett, has concocted all sorts of kooky concepts over the years. These include beardvertising, the (unsanctioned) “Kentucky kicks ass” tourism campaign, a marketing buzzword jar, commercials filmed by horses, and ads with glaring typos, to name a few.

Now, he’s taken pages from his notebooks, in which he developed many of his idiosyncratic ideas, and through the magic of papier-mâché, built an unusual art installation. Called “Paper Cliché,” it celebrates his own loopy legacy as it skewers and reimagines that moldy maxim about “thinking outside the box.”

Using 50 notebooks, spanning eight years of work, Hiler produced 11 themed, pop-art style boxes. Each one represents a marketing campaign or passion project close to his heart.

Check them out at, along with detailed and revelatory comments by the artiste.

One box, “Kentucky for Kentucky,” is fairly representative of the lot, chronicling Hiler’s sundry efforts to promote the Blue Grass State. Gnarly stick figures … YALL! headlines … a sketch that sort of looks like a bourbon bottle. Yeah, that’s our nation’s 15th state all right.

Another box, “Kentucky to the Super Bowl,” sprang from a 2011 effort to crowdfund a Big Game commercial for the commonwealth. “We attempted to raise $3.5 million on Kickstarter,” Hiler writes in his project commentary. “While we didn’t reach our funding goal, we did get people talking about how great Kentucky is.”

There’s even a “Press Box,” all about generating PR buzz, with mantras like “If it doesn’t spread it’s dead,” and “Why will someone care about this?” (That smiley-face doodle probably refers to the warm, happy feeling you get when dealing with the media.)

No doubt, Andy Warhol’s looking down from his psychedelic cartoon-cloud, shrieking, “Boxes, of course! I wasted my life with cans!”

All kidding aside, Hiler’s blocky assemblage of scribbled notes, underlined words, crossed-out phrases and random doodles speaks volumes (hand-written volumes!) about the intense mental effort and obsessive conceptual refinement that yields truly “inspired” work. These boxes suggest liberation and freedom, not containment. They’re all about unboxing creativity and breathing three-dimensional life into notions, schemes and dreams.

We spoke to Hiler about the project.

Adweek: So, what inspired this artistic foray?
Whit Hiler: Really, just the big stack of notebooks sitting in my office. I’ve been saving most of them for a long time. They’ve just been sitting in a window at work collecting dust. One day the idea of making papier-mâché boxes out of those old notebooks just popped into my head and I ran with it. My wife is super into crafting—weaving and macramé. Her after-hours crafting inspired my papier-mâché crafting as well.

How does one go about doing such a thing. What’s the process?
I started with a base layer from the paper that hadn’t been used in the notebooks, [putting that] over the top of 8×8 and 11×11 boxes. Once the base layers dried, I started chopping up the good stuff from my notebooks and adding that content to the outside of the boxes. I went old-school on the papier-mâché and used flour and warm water. It was fun. It took me about a month of working on this, off and on, to get it done.

Is the collection on display somewhere physically, or just online?
Right now, the collection is living on this website and in my basement. If folks dig it, hopefully it can live other places—someone’s home or maybe a gallery. Maybe in the Museum of Modern Art. Maybe not. I’ve never made traditional art before, so I’m not really sure what to expect. It could end up potentially just live in my basement for the next 40 years until my kids finally decide to throw it out.

What did you learn from your boxing efforts?
What did I learn? That I’m damn good at papier-mâché! I came out of this with zero paper cuts. It also got me pumped up to keep on making stuff—ad campaigns, products, side projects.

To ask your “Press Box” question: Why would someone care about this?
Everyone is familiar with the phrase “think outside the box,” and I’m sure at one time pretty much everyone has been told to “think outside of the box.” Also, notebooks as a medium is also very relatable. Pretty much everyone used notebooks for brainstorming, doodling, taking notes. Most creatives probably have a stack laying around their office.

There’s also the haters. I’m sure there’s a few folks out there that will hate on this project. There always are. Good or bad, hating is caring.

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.
Publish date: February 1, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT