Fancy Rhino’s Graves Charges Ahead

Manseen Logan

Described as “a true southern gentleman with northern exposure,” Vann Graves brings more than 20 years of New York City advertising experience to Fancy Rhino, the creative house that produced the SaveTheBros ad − a satirical public service announcement about our brawny bros’ need for Organic Fuel protein shakes − for other local company, Humanaut.

Five-year-old Fancy Rhino appointed Graves President and Chief Creative Officer in April, granting him an opportunity to return to his southern roots.

But regardless of his location, Graves maintains a basic philosophy of “assume nothing” and “never walk into a room with preconceived notions.” This approach has facilitated his successful campaigns for American Airlines, Kohl’s, MasterCard and other major brands.

The advertising world has two big names to thank for the creation of super ad exec Vann Graves: Darrin Stephens and Marcus Graham. Never heard of them? Fictional characters both, Darrin was Samantha’s devoted husband from the popular ‘60s TV show “Bewitched,” and Marcus was the ladies’ man and ad executive in Eddie Murphy’s classic ‘90s film “Boomerang.”

“It’s funny. When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I don’t know why I connected drawing with advertising, but I knew that I wanted to be an advertiser just like Darrin from ‘Bewitched.’ After I watched Eddie Murphy’s movie ‘Boomerang’ I made up my mind,” Graves says.

A Virginia native, Graves landed his New York advertising dream job and made tremendous waves in the profession, but did not arrive in Chattanooga to further his dream – he relocated to support Dr. Autumn A. Graves, his wife, in her dream job as Head of School at Girls Preparatory School.

“My wife has always supported my dreams and it was my turn to support hers,” he says.

After a year of flying between New York and Tennessee, Graves met with Fancy Rhino founders Isaiah Smallman and Drew Belz. They all agreed that Graves could take the young Chattanooga firm, which began as a production company, from infancy to adulthood.

“It’s easy to treat creativity as a commodity or something that is made and purchased. But when I work with a client, I act as a partner, not a vendor,” Graves says, emphasizing his belief in understanding the brand and goals of each client.

“I like that Chattanooga has less layers than New York, but I learned a lot working in New York. Too many layers can turn a great creative idea into dog’s breakfast. New York’s pace is harder and the approach is much different,” he says.

To construct a strong story, Graves pulls from various aspects of life, people and experiences.

As Graves settles into his new position with Fancy Rhino, he looks forward to creating more partnerships, great stories and spending time with his wife and new son William.

“Don’t let anybody steal your dream and don’t give others power over your destiny,” he says. “If you have dreams, don’t chase them, make them a reality.”

To see some of Graves’s work, check out vanngraves.com. Learn more about Fancy Rhino and their work, which goes way beyond saving bros, at fancyrhino.com. 

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