January 6, 2021
New year, who dis? As we kick off another calendar year (and kick 2020 to the curb), everyone’s celebrating new beginnings and new opportunities. At Finn Partners, we’re also celebrating new employees, including Small Army’s Senior Partner and Executive Creative Director Chris Edwards.
Chris cut his teeth as a junior copywriter at Arnold Worldwide, eventually working his way to EVP/Group Creative Director for the organization. At Arnold, he worked on ad campaigns for household names like McDonald’s, Southern Comfort and Pearle Vision before leaving to dip a toe into the freelance waters. He joined Small Army, FINN’s Boston office, at the end of 2020.
We caught up with Chris to chat about his career, his creative process, and what’s been keeping him (more or less) sane during the pandemic.
Q: You had a great run at Arnold Worldwide, and then a flourishing freelance business. Why the heck did you decide to come back to an agency? How much sweet-talking did Jeff Freedman [Small Army’s Founder and CEO] have to do?
Freelancing definitely has its pluses, but I was missing agency life and being part of something bigger than just me. I also really missed the mentoring aspect of being a creative director — nurturing the up-and-coming talent and helping them develop their careers.
And Jeff really didn’t have to do too much persuading. I’d freelanced for Small Army before, and I loved the vibe and the people. Their agency philosophy — building enduring relationships through powerful, authentic storytelling — is pretty much my personal philosophy, so it felt like a really good fit. Add the firepower of Finn Partners, and it was a no-brainer for me.
Q: Some of the ad campaigns you’ve worked on in your previous life have been pretty high-profile. I’d venture to say many people are familiar with at least one: the McDonald’s ad for the Filet-O-Fish that featured a singing fish. What was working on that like?
Ah, the Filet-O-Fish commercial — my claim to fame. (I still can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing!) One thing most people don’t know about the assignment: The spot had to work for both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences. So when we were concepting, we had to keep in mind there couldn’t be any dialogue.
That’s what led to the idea of using the toy. We could dub anything over the fish’s mouth movements, so we figured, let’s let the fish do all the talking — or should I say, singing. It actually made the two guys funnier, because their expressions were so subtle. If they spoke, it probably would have ruined the spot.
Another fun fact: We didn’t have the song until we were on set shooting the spot. We had three different music houses working on it, and had listened to hundreds of demos. When I heard the first few notes and opening hook of this track, I called the director over and said, “I think we have a winner.” He and the entire crew agreed. None of us could get that damn song out of our heads.
Q: What is your personal favorite campaign you’ve worked on, and why?
I’d have to say the TV and radio campaigns I produced for the anti-Big Tobacco movement, “Truth.” The entire body of work was ranked one of the Top 15 advertising campaigns of the 21st century, but more importantly, it was a campaign for good. It feels awesome to know I had a role in helping lower the teen smoking rate from 23% to 6%.
Q: Between ad-free streaming services and content-focused platforms like TikTok, the advertising world is changing fast. What do you think these recent developments mean for the future of advertising?
That is the million-dollar question. I think it’s going to be up to all of us to be more creative with our thinking and approaches. These days, being creative with media is often the big idea, so collaboration is key. We need to find ways to run ads that are not intrusive, and, ideally, add value to the consumer.
For example, when I was freelancing for an agency, we were pitching a digital campaign to a client and the tagline was “You’re welcome.” One idea I had was to buy unskippable :15 pre-roll ads, and after the first two seconds, the ad would automatically skip to the end, at which point you’d see the client logo and then: “You’re welcome.” The brand still got their name in front of the consumer and earned points for respecting the consumer’s time by acknowledging they’d rather be watching their video content than an ad.
Q: What are two or three books you think everyone should read, and why (other than your memoir, of course)?
If you want a good laugh, anything by David Sedaris. I especially like listening to him; it’s even funnier when he’s reading his own material. His style was actually my inspiration when I was finding my own “author voice.” But the best memoir I ever read was “The Liars’ Club” by Mary Karr. It was so well written, with descriptions that bring characters and scenes vividly to life with humor and raw emotion. I wish I could write like that.
If you like fiction, one of my favorite page-turners is “A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith. (They made a movie from it featuring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, though it wasn’t very good). I started reading it without knowing what it was about, and couldn’t put it down. I later bought a bunch of copies, took a Sharpie and blacked out the summary on the back of the books (it gave too much away), and gave them to friends and family to read. I’ve never done that with any other book.
Q: How have you been dealing with the pandemic?
I’m a very social guy and I live alone, so it’s been tough. (I’ve been catching myself talking to my food like it’s a person. The other day I was about to polish off the last chocolate-chunk brownie and actually heard myself say out loud, “OK, brownie, it’s over. You’re through.”) But virtual walks with friends have been keeping me sane (and helping keep off the pounds from all the brownies). Since March, I’ve blown through two pairs of sneakers and seven pairs of athletic socks. I’ve also stopped watching the news, which is way too depressing, and that’s really helped.
But recently, the thing that’s keeping me most sane is this job. I get to see and interact with smart, creative people regularly (though I will say Zoom fatigue is very real), and it keeps me honest about showering every day!
To keep tabs on Chris’ future creative work with the Small Army and FINN team, follow: