Chuck Bua (Chouinard BFA 62) has led an exciting, creative life as one of the advertising profession’s top art directors, but when he attended Chouinard Art Institute, he could have pursued one of two other career paths: either art or animation—both of which he studied along with advertising design. Many of his classmates at Chouinard, which would later merge with the Los Angeles Conservatory to form CalArts, built highly successful careers in art, including Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode. Chouinard trained aspiring animators as well, such as Hardie Gramatky and Retta Scott of Walt Disney Studios, and Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble, whose careers blossomed at Warner Bros. After Bua graduated, however, his widowed mother asked him to come back home to New Jersey to help support the family. Advertising became both his creative outlet and his occupation in a career that has lasted for more than 50 years.
His training in the fundamentals of art gave him a valuable foundation for success outside of the visual arts. “I was torn between being a fine art painter, an animator or an advertising designer,” Bua says. “The fine art background allowed me to do breakthrough advertising–a double-page advertising spread in a magazine was like a canvas to me. The Chouinard training in subjects like color theory made me a more valuable art director.”
Bua began his career in 1963 at the Kenyon Eckart advertising agency in New York, serving as an art director on print ads for Lincoln and Mercury cars and Nabisco cereals. Until the 1960s, copywriters were typically in charge of an advertisement’s creative direction, but when Bua started, art directors, who handled the visuals, were gaining more power. Bua says that the most successful ads are created when writers and art directors work together, and as an example, he cites a clever Listerine print ad that he helped create in the late 1960s. It simply showed a bottle of the mouthwash with tiny, seven-point type on the page that forced the reader to bring the magazine close to his or her face. The text read, “When you’re this close to someone, do you worry about your breath?”
Over the years, Bua held top creative and management positions at numerous firms, including Douglas D. Simon, Green & Dolmatch, Grey Advertising, Tracy Locke, and J. Walter Thompson, among others, before moving to Dallas in 1974 to become a partner in a regional agency. In 1980, he became executive creative director at Keller Crescent in Dallas, where he was instrumental in the first campaign for America West Airlines, designing the company’s logo and 727 aircraft exterior imagery. In 1987, Bua moved to Kansas City, opening his own agency, called CB Group Inc. While he retired in 2000, Bua continues to consult for CB Group and also teaches advertising design at the Arts Institute International—Kansas City.
Throughout his career, Bua received numerous accolades, including five CLIO awards for television commercials and 22 gold medals in numerous art direction and advertising competitions. He was also named one of the“20 best art directors” by Art Direction magazine in 1968, acknowledged as one of the most innovative periods in advertising history. Among the other highlights of his career are the three years spent at Douglas D. Simon, where he worked with Richard Avedon on dozens of print ads, including a series with Lauren Hutton for Lady Manhattan Shirts. Avedon, he says, was “a true gentleman and collaborator” who sent Bua a Hasselblad camera one year as a Christmas gift.
The head of the agency, Doug Simon, taught Bua one of his most valuable lessons when he was still under 30. He was assigned to create a series of spec ads for Charles of the Ritz Cosmetics, now L’Oreal. “I had to make a pitch against the incumbent agency, and I was scared. Simon said to me, ‘Are you afraid to compete? If you can’t compete against a great, you will never be great.’” With that, Bua pushed through his fear and won the multi-million dollar account.
Among his other achievements, Bua helped develop the ads that introduced the Subaru in the U.S. in 1970 with the legendary copywriter Paula Green at Green & Dolmatch. During his time in Dallas, he was part of the team that created a memorable series of Dorito ads in 1976 featuring the comedian Avery Schreiber. In the 1970s, Bua also redesigned the CLIO statuette, presented annually to the top professionals in TV advertising.
Bua attributes his success to a number of factors, including skills he learned at Chouinard. “To be a great art director in advertising, you have to have an intuitive understanding of people—you have to know what emotional buttons to push. You do demographics research and organize focus groups to learn what turns your target audience on or off. But you also need a good eye and a good conceptual mind to sell the product—skills that I first developed at Chouinard. My art background enabled me to find the right visuals in combination with text, to create great ads that engaged people.”