An Interview with John Jarvis

By Matt Van Hoven 

This sweet little campaign, produced by one-man-Minneapolis-shop GIRAFFE (aka John Jarvis) spoofs the process of leaves turning colors in the fall. According to the above video, a family-run operation is responsible for providing Ely (a waaaay upstate Minnesota city near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area) with the beautiful colors people flock to see each fall.

And by waaaaay upstate, we mean it. Ely is about as close to Canada as you can get. And Jarvis parlayed that fact for the first installment of this campaign; an April Fool’s joke (that the media was in on), which claimed that Canada sought “to buy Ely and move it to the other side of the border in order to grab more tourism business.” The idea was a success, and the fakery won Ely international headlines.


Learn more about Jarvis and how he plays so many instruments with two hands, after the jump. Bet you didn’t know he was the guy who hired both Mike Fetrow and Christine Freuchte back when he was CEO of Colle + McVoy.

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GIRAFFE was launched last January. Jarvis took a year off before starting his little shop to, as he put it, “contemplate my navel” while consulting for bread. Prior to his time off, he was CEO and COO of C+M &#151 where he says he played an integral role in changing the shop’s direction. Jarvis said he was fired in October of 2006, by parent company MDC.

Jarvis won’t soon expand GIRAFFE, but he has two solid relationships with Sun Country Airlines and Ely. He still consults now and then, too.

“I started GIRAFFE without any real idea of what I would do &#151 virtual agency, consulting, freelance CD, innovation training, high school band director?”

But early on, he picked up Ely and Sun Country, which had previously been with Brew-Creative and Olson, respectively. “So for those two accounts, I guess I’m a virtual agency,” he said. “(but) I don’t pitch against other agencies.


How’d you get Ely to bite on such a creative idea (referring to the Coloration Project)?


Ely is a terrific client, well trained by Olson to embrace out-of-the-box ideas. When I came to them with an idea this spring to pull an April Fool’s Prank, they were all over it.

On April 1, we started radio spots announcing that Canada was in negotiations to buy Ely and move it to the other side of the border in order to grab more tourism business.

We let the press in on the joke, but not the public. We fooled a few people, but better than that, we got picked up all over the country, and as far away as Japan, in print and on TV, including USA Today, People magazine and others. A miniscule [sic] budget, but the Internet is a beautiful thing. We heard from a woman in Antarctica who saw the story and it made her homesick for northern Wisconsin!

After getting all that attention for that little stunt, the tourism board in Ely is hungry for more. Selling them on this idea was easy. They love this sort of thing. (Wait until April 1 next year.)

Ely is a place that people get very passionate about. It’s the “last great, pure experience,” up there on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the border with Canada. The place is so pure, they still get their drinking water directly from a local lake (Burntside Lake). The NY Times regularly features it in their “Places to Go This Summer” listings.

Jarvis’ background: “Worked as writer at Carmichael-Lynch, Chuck Ruhr, Martin/Williams, started an agency in 1989 called Lynch Jarvis Jones, left that in ’93 and went to Fallon (as a) GCD. Then went freelance for five years. Joined C+M in 2000 as CCO, then added the President and CEO titles in Spring of 2004. Hired Fruechte and Fetrow in Sept, 2004. I’ve won the requisite awards, taught at the U of M, St. Thomas, Miami Ad School, MCAD, etc., etc.”