Chad Baker: ‘If you’re not making mistakes you’re not making great work’
Posted on April 18, 2019 | By Nils Adriaans & Gijs de Swarte

Meet the world’s most Awarded creative directors in this new series called the 6,5 interview. American Freelance Creative Director and former Creative Director Saatchi & Saatchi New York, Chad Baker, created the groundbreaking ‘It’s a Tide Ad’, which 'hijacked' the Super Bowl commercial frenzy last year and took away multiple awards at any prestigious international awards show in 2018 (among which seven Lions in Cannes).

1) What was your biggest fear when you just started? 

Chad Baker: ‘The biggest thing I feared was not having good taste. Coming from Post Falls Idaho, a small town, over 300 miles away from the nearest metropolitan area, I feared that everyone else that grew up in the city (and it felt like most people in advertising did) had a better understanding of what was good. I soon learned that my background was more of an asset than a thing to be feared. I see things from all points of view. I understand the perspectives of people from a small town, and a big city.’

2) Please describe your key-career break moment… 

‘My “big break” was not any one moment, but a period of time. The first four years, I spent at JWT New York, was the time that shaped who I am as a creative. One of my first TV ads I made was for Depend (adult diapers). From that moment until I did my first Macy’s project, I worked my ass off. I was willing to work on anything just to get a chance at something a little better. Slowly more and more small opportunities started to come my way. After years of learning, failing and learning some more, the good opportunities started outweighing the bad. I viewed each project as a chance to show what I could do and get to the next big thing. I think that still would be the best approach to start off a career in advertising.’

3) What was the lesson learned from your most loved mistake? 

‘For me mistakes are the only consistent thing in this industry. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not making great work. You have to try things and take risks to get to the one breakthrough idea. The best example of this for me was a social media campaign I did for Macy’s. On this project we documented an elf’s journey from NYC up into the bitter cold Alaska wilderness. Ultimately delivering the world record-breaking wish list to Santa. The five day journey was captured and shared live on multiple social channels. This was done to give parents and children a chance to watch the elf deliver their wishes to Santa. Further expanding Macy’s ownership of Christmas time. The project was extremely fun, and the content was amazing. I mean, who doesn't love an elf singing to a reindeer? But, by most metrics, this campaign was not considered a success. Ultimately we spread the story out over too many platforms. It needed to be more focused on just Twitter or just Instagram. We also attempted to create new social media presences for the elf. This is nearly impossible to do without spending a large amount of media money. It takes a lot to get people excited about a new social account. In addition the partnerships we chose were not properly evaluated for the additional reach they could provide. The campaign did however teach me these valuable lessons on how to handle social media campaigns.‘

4) Where do you get your inspiration? 

‘For me I find inspiration in the world I live in. I know this sounds like BS, but it’s true. I’m always on the lookout for interesting stories told in interesting ways. This can be a shelf tag in the grocery store, a Henri Rousseau painting, player introductions at a basketball game, or a story about a bear riding a bike in the park as told by my two year old son. It all inspires me in it’s own way.’

‘In the research phase of most projects, I work to find unique inspiration from the world surrounding the subject matter. Often times I work on products and services that I don’t know much about. Often I’m inspired by a part of culture I would not experience in my daily life. This is one of the things I love most about working in this industry.

5) If you want to get ahead in advertising these days, please, please do not ever… 

‘… be an asshole. Be passionate. Have a strong point of view. Defend your ideas. But never be mean. It’s not worth it. At times it may feel like people don’t understand you, or that they “just don’t get it”. Before you get angry, take a minute and think, “maybe there’s a better way to communicate this”. Ninety percent of the time people around you are just trying to make the work as good as it can be. Each person has a unique perspective and can help make the work better if not only help you explain it better. 

6) If I was a millennial (gen Z) and wanted to start in advertising now, I would… 

‘Start publishing now. The world we live in allows you to show off your talents without big budgets and fancy cameras. So just start making stuff, and putting it out into the world. Funny series of tweets? Beautiful Instagram posts that show a new perspective on life? Start figuring out how to share your ideas without filter. These are ways you can show who you are. And you’ll quickly learn what people like and what they don’t.’

(6,5) Also, I'd like to state that…

‘Every brand and every product has a compelling story. It’s our job to find it, and tell it well.’