Author Richard Geller was bang on the money when he said “Advertising has always pitched its tents on pretty slippery slopes—celebrating its own creative brilliance even as it rationalizes (or denies) its culpability for employing it to push stuff that often falls somewhere between the bad and the purely lethal. But if we’re going to at least make an effort to be honest, it’s nearly impossible for any of us to work within the larger corporate culture and not to at least sometimes despair or feel queasy at the ends toward which our collective efforts are directed. It’s what wears us down in the end”.
The 'old' Alex Bogusky
I’m watching with great interest what one of the former rock-stars of advertising is doing with his life now that he’s sold out of his agency (reputedly for $20m) and turned his back on the industry in order to – depending on which part of the hype you believe – recreate capitalism/ find his soul/ be a patron of the arts and a champion of various spiritual misfits/create a new kind of agency with ethics and sustainability at its core. Or, all the above.
Yes, I’m talking about the annoyingly youthful, successful and good looking Alex Bogusky, former creative director of Crispin, Porter, Bogusky and Adweek’s “Creative Director of the Decade”. Well, ok maybe he’s annoying because he was phenominally successful, has become enormously wealthy AND now seems bent on applying executing a long-held dream of mine, creating an advertising business which restricts its offering to worthy products and services.
Bugusky has created a business (is that the right word?) called Fearless, housed in a cottage in Boulder, Colorado, home of many a trust fund-financed “whoa dude” extreme-sportsters – my jealousy showing again. (I’m not the only one – I read a great piece of toilet-wall graffiti in Boulder some years ago: “trust funders…you can’t trust them and they’re no fun”). What’s Fearless all about? Well, it’s a little hard to say, exactly, at least from its website which features its blog more prominently than a description of its services – listed as consulting, speaking and design. Fearless’ ‘About’ page says: “We see ourselves as advocates in this new consumer revolution. One founded on the principles that we have the power and the tools to reshape the world again”.
Cool. And while the guys are waiting for a client, they’re selling a nice range of T-Shirts and skis!
Emanating from Fearless is a project called Common.
Common will apparently be part-community, part incubator, part media channel with a mission to ‘design a capitalism that spreads love and prosperity to all stakeholders’. Bogusky says that he still believes in commerce and that capitalism is the most powerful force on earth and has lifted billions out of poverty – but it is in crisis. To help remedy that he says that creative people must play a part in inventing the new capitalism.
Havas Media Lab director Umair Haque, who I’m a big fan of, is proposing many of the same capitalism reforms based on values like transparency, collaboration and sustainability. I’m certainly not arguing!
I must say, these multiple brands demonstrate a fecund mind(s) however it’s all a bit confusing. Reminds me of when I started my first agency, I got through a couple of brands each with lofty ambitions before I settle down to concentrate in one place. Perhaps Alex will too, in time. as he says :”when I left the agency business i felt like i could do some good just by raising some awareness around some of the issues facing business at large so that agencies and marketing people had the context for themselves and a context with their clients that would lead to more of the important work that marketers can and should be doing. It took a while to find my genuine voice again and that process is evolving. But I clearly feel less like i‘m about to explode as the things ive held inside have finally found a way out”.
art to go, Alex-style
So far Alex’s coverage has been eclectic: he’s railed against GMOs, soy and the health dangers of cell phones. Oh, and he’s started a program which takes outdoor media sites and places art on them instead of advertising…a sort of ‘take art to the people’ effort. Starting uncharacteristically modestly with Boulder-based bicycle baskets, the program has ambitions for billboards. Now if I were to harp, I’d comment that this isn’t the least bit original – it’s been done in many cities around the world in one form or another – and maybe I’d point out the irony and condescension in Alex now telling us we need to look at something better than the messages which made him wealthy. Certainly some commentators have questioned Alex’s sincerity in all this. And there are some puzzling signs..take this comment, blogged by the very guy who left the industry because it encouraged consumption in a way he could no longer reconcile himself to: “there is a certain self-loathing that exists in this industry that is hard to quite understand”.
But he’s evolving his ideas so give him a break. Personally I think his sell is a little slick, and he should take a slightly more humble approach, but hey, he’s been a huge adman for a long time, perhaps the leopard’s spots are what will allow him to succeed in his new endeavours.
Perhaps Alex’s most salient piece of wisdom: ‘ideas are somewhat worthless without the resolve and commitment to make it real”. Seems Bogusky & co have the ideas, the means and the commitment. This is going to be good to watch. Make it count, Alex.