Documentary Follows an Agency Copywriter Into the Wild, With Only Client Products to Survive

Lee Kimball learns nature's brutality, and the true value of beer

Remember that time Roundhouse sent a copywriter into the wilderness for a week, with nothing but client brands to keep him alive? Well, the Portland, Ore., agency just released the documentary. In "Living Off the Brands," witness how Lee Kimball ate, slept, bartered and battled the elements over the course of five long days.

The docu's got an Into the Wild thing going on, with narration from Kimball about nature and, of course, what it means to "live your clients' brands."

"I yearned to understand that casual claim and make it my credo," he says. "It was my desire to exist … persist … and persevere in the wilderness armed with only my body, my mind and the products of Roundhouse's clients." 

When Kimball gets dropped off on the roadside of a sprawling wilderness (Oregon's Lower Crooked River), he's informed by the driver that "there's a lake over that way." Day one is devoted to finding it. Shortly after hitting himself with his own frying pan, and resigning himself to a trudge, he finds it about two seconds later. 

Mysteries are short in the real world. 

In the 16-minute film, we get clips of Kimball's Periscopes, where he shares the berries he finds and wonders whether they're edible. And there's the brands—the night he tries Treehouse Drinking Chocolate beside a fire; his (unsuccessful) fishing excursion wearing a Redington outfit; his ever-present Adidas cap.

Food is clearly the biggest challenge. Kimball has water to boil, but struggles with finding sustenance. Midway through the film, he admits, "Dirt sounds pretty appetizing," as he picks at a meager selection of grubs. 

While he attributes many failed experiments to "user error," he does find ways to make good use of alcohol—using Faust wine to cook nettles (classy!) and Widmer Brothers' Upheaval IPA to barter with fisherman for what appears to be one fish and some water. We can only hope to be so creative in a similar situation. 

"Now I can start sweating again," he mutters after his first sip of water. And in a moment that brings Watson from Cast Away to mind, he uses fish heads to have a tiny conversation. "You guys are my best friends … because you let me eat you," he whispers softly.

That is on day three. 

Needless to say, Kimball survives his journey, but all this pathos should be sufficient temptation to watch the rest. For your happiness, we also asked him a few questions now that he's back in the civilized world. 

AdFreak: So, you spent a week in the wilderness. Quick contrast: How did you feel on the first day versus the last day?
Lee Kimball: The excitement level was equally palpable, but for different reasons. On day one, I was headed out into the unknown to fend for myself and risk life and limb for the glory of Roundhouse and its clients. I was a little naive in my excitement, though, and just happy to be out of the office and in the woods for a week. 

By day five, when I got picked up in the van, I nearly wept as I wrapped my grubby, stubby fingers around a bottle of fresh, clear, unboiled water. I was definitely ready to head home.

Which three brand items helped you the most?
Truth be told, they all did in some form or another. I suppose the most important, though, was my Leatherman Signal, which provided me with fire thanks to its fire-starter ferro rod—plus it had some pretty sweet knives, saws and other tools—separating me from the beasts and cavemen who came before me. Next was probably my Finex Cast Iron Skillet and Pot so I could boil water on the fire—and not drink the giardia-infested lake water—then my Yeti Rambler Tumbler so I could drink my "clean" water once it cooled down. 

But all of the brands helped … Widmer Brothers Brewing gave me a highly tradable commodity, so when I failed so miserably at fly fishing with my Redington gear, I was able to trade with people because I had beer. And beer is practically a currency in the wild. 

Least useful?
Well, I don't want to talk trash about any of our clients' brands, but that Adidas USA soccer ball never really came in handy for anything. Sorry, soccer fans! 

The survival tactics you learned? 
I learned the caloric value of beetles and ant larvae, unfortunately. I also learned—with the help of my social media friends on Periscope and Instagram—how to identify edible berries, and that holding rocks that have been warmed in the fire will keep your fingers from falling off during the cold nights. Oh yeah, and I learned just how essential water is to human survival, even after only a few days.

How has it changed the way you perceive the products you brought in with you?
I found out quickly that I'd overestimated my fly fishing abilities and realized just how much of an art there is in doing it right. I was super grateful for the Treehouse Drinking Chocolate because I used it as a chocolatey reward for accomplishing just about anything. 

I correctly assumed I would make full use of the Reebok and Adidas gear, but didn't realize just how cold it got up there, even in the summertime. So having lots of layers ended up being pretty big league. (That's a saying now, right?) 

No, it's not. What item do you absolutely wish you'd had with you?
Seriously, if it's not already obvious, a water purifier would have made this ordeal a cakewalk. Apart from that, a sleeping bag and tent would have been pretty comfy-cozy. 

How were you extracted, and how did you feel when it happened?
We had a pre-determined rendezvous that I was able to find after a final sesh of wilderness wandering. Seeing that dusty old van come over the hill gave me a feeling of euphoria that was only surpassed by the delicious burger and fries I ate a few hours later at Poppa Al's Famous Hamburgers. 

Would you do it again? Has it changed you?
I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially knowing the few tricks I learned from this first time around. And who knows, maybe we have a few more clients, like a food or water account, so that next time it's a little easier. 

But overall, I think we definitely proved ourselves as an agency that lives its clients' brands. And although I've always had a relationship with social media that is "complicated," I do appreciate its value a bit more and the kindness of strangers. 

I'm so grateful for all the people who tuned in to cheer me on and give me lifesaving advice. It's surprising just how re-energized you can get from other people's enthusiasm. I encourage everyone to try it, and I'll be on the other end cheering for you.