My career in 5 executions: Chuck McBride

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Cutwater's founder and CCO has learned that good work requires more than a great idea

Name: Chuck McBride
Title: Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Cutwater
Years in industry: 22
First job in industry: Copywriter at Franklin and Associates in San Diego, working with John Vitro and John Robertson.

Chuck McBride worked his way up through many of the best agencies on the West Coast and boasts an awards shelf that includes about a dozen Gold Lions and an Emmy. In 2007, he founded Cutwater as an Omnicom subsidiary before taking the agency independent in 2011.

"Our creative philosophy is to create powerful brand platforms that drive the cultural capital of a brand forward," he says. "We call these platforms cutwaters  the leading edge of a ship that cuts through water."

Here are the 5 executions McBride says taught him the most about the craft and the industry.

Brand: California Milk Processor Board
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Aaron Burr"
Year: 1993

McBride worked on the inaugural "Got Milk?" spot, an homage to Alexander Hamilton two decades before its time. "It taught me how to interpret scripts through actors, and how to translate that into the editing of the final piece," McBride says. "Much of its humor and its effectiveness came as a result of the acting."

The tight editing (and direction from an up-and-coming Michael Bay) told a complicated and multi-layered story in just 30 seconds. "It was a crash course in copywriting, production and direction skills any good creative should master."

Brand: Levi's Jeans
Client: Levi Strauss & Co.
Agency: FCB San Francisco
Work: "Doctors"
Year: 1997

Levi’s was McBride’s first account after being promoted from copywriter to creative director. "My lack of experience was a gift at the time," he says. "I had no concerns about office politics or the business realities of the agency that a long-time CD might have had."

Instead, he put a team together that set out "not to reflect culture, but to create it," he says, with "memorable stories that would speak to young people in a way that most other brands weren’t doing at the time." This surreal spot, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Jonze, was one of the results.

"It was a process of addition," McBride says, "with subtle details and moments worked into the spots that took them to an over-the-top level that was better than what we started out with."

Brand: Nike
Agency: Wieden+Kennedy
Work: "Joggers/Morning After"
Year: 1999

The last half of 1999 saw an annoying proliferation of apocalyptic Y2K spots, a trend McBride and his team resisted at first. "We came up with an idea to both join them, and beat them," he says.

The spot won the Emmy for Outstanding Television Commercial and raised McBride’s profile in the industry. But he credits much of its success to the client relationship. "It taught me something really valuable about the creative process  trust," he says. "With the client’s trust, we did great things together  a body of work that so many people should be proud of."

Brand: Fox Sports
Client: Fox Sports NHL
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day San Francisco
Work: "The More Hockey You Watch The Tougher You Get"
Year: 2002

These spots positioned Fox Sports as a fun alternative to ESPN, and hockey as a tougher game than any other. "Instead of going the traditional route  a spot with a lot of big guys slamming into each other on the ice  we decided to poke fun at this stereotype," McBride says. "Turning Fox into the Bart Simpson of sports made a lot of sense for the brand."

The raw humor got audiences talking. "This project taught me that you can have good creative, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t driving cultural conversation and chatter, you aren’t doing your job."

Brand: Jeep
Client: Chrysler
Agency: Cutwater
Work: "Have fun out there"
Year: 2007

Jeep "Sandbox" from Cutwater on Vimeo.

Jeep suffered from a brand that was too narrowly defined. "Everyone thought they already knew what a Jeep was and what it stood for, and they weren’t interested in buying a car just because it was ‘tough’ and ‘rugged,’" McBride says.

So Cutwater set out to showcase the fun that comes along with the outdoor adventures. "Working on Jeep ignited my love for redefining heritage brands something we consider one of our sweet spots at Cutwater."


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