Monday, July 5, 2010

Employee Number 16 Resigns. The Day Alex Bogusky Said Good-Bye To CP+B, MDC and Advertising.

He was known as employee number 16 in early 1989.

He became Creative Director of the agency five years later.

He was named a partner in 1997.

He became Co-Chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky in January 2008.

He charted his own future as Chief Creative Insurgent at MDC in early 2010.

Then suddenly, Dr. Alexander M. Bogusky resigned. He resigned from his MDC post and maybe advertising life altogether.

I have had the privilege to meet, chat and exchange ideas with Alex and with each encounter I left feeling smarter, more passionate and humbled, fueled to bring more to my students and to what I love to do. I met Alex for first time during Advertising Week in New York City in the fall of 2007. Since then he has been a mentor, inspiration and friend.


Under his and Chuck Porter's direction, the CP+B has grown to over 900+ passionate minds. In Boulder, in Miami, and along with CP+B Europe in Sweden, he and CP+B have become the world’s most awarded agency in history including being named Agency of the Decade by Adweek and Alex being name "Creative Director of The Decade” in one of the most tumultuous times in advertising history. This growth and success showed no signs of stopping - as recent as last week CP+B was named Interactive Agency of the Year at the Cannes Advertising Festival and winning the Titanium Grand Prix for Best Buy Twelpforce.

The "great work" and "awards" earned him many honors, but it also brought some unusual attention along the way. There were fake Facebook pages, fake Twitter accounts and even a curmudgeon who would retweet any reference to @bogusky as "Bogusky Garbage" devoted to him. From time to time many blogs writers gave "play-by-play of his every move. Some would ask, not always kidding, “What would Alex do?” There was even fake merchandise created from decorative "plates" and "WWABD" (What Would Alex Bogusky Do) bracelets.

During his career Alex has been profiled in almost every industry publication from Communication Arts, Adweek, Adage, Business 2.0, Fast Company and Business Week. His work and thinking has has been featured in main stream media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, and TIME, as well as countless appearances on national television and radio. Two honors placed upon to Alex that defined his career, but his personality where his 2002 induction into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement and the highest of honors for an Art Director, induction into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. Pretty cool for guy who really wasn't sure this crazy business was in his cards. He remains humbled by all of this.

I asked him to offer my students some insights on the ADC honor, some advice to help them in their careers. His response to me remains and defines what makes Alex an inspiration to me:

"Thanks. It’s a great honor. Shocking actually".

"A friend of mine reminded me of a conversation we had when Lee Clow went into the (ADC) Hall of Fame. He asked me if I remembered what I said and i didn’t even remember the conversation. But he said I remarked that getting in the Hall of Fame was the ultimate achievement yet totally unattainable. I guess I was wrong. Again".

"But I will quietly admit that this sort of thing doesn’t really sit well with my sense of community and my connection with everybody I’ve ever worked with. I’m obviously not alone in a single thing I ever did. We did it all together and to be singled out isn’t right. I worry too that it continues to perpetuate this idea of singular achievement. Which to me it a potentially destructive way to look at the world. I’ll accept it for CPB but not for myself and I’ll accept it for all the people who supported all the hair brain schemes and plans we’ve had over the years".



Last fall Alex posted a great piece on his "posterous blog" on a significant turning point in his career titles "Flip Flopping to Success". This story was told several times over and over in the media and on blogs but Alex wanted to tell the story the way it happened. When he was promoted to art director in his first advertising job he wanted to attend an advertising seminar that he thought would be a good place to get exposer to some thinking and people he didn’t have access to, not like today's world of social media. He asked his boss if he would pay to send his to the seminar figuring it was win-win for the agency and Alex. "He seemed really impressed with me and my initiative and he carefully explained to me that the more I learned like this the more valuable I would become and finally he turned to me and said, “Never be afraid to invest in yourself." Alex found this to be the best and most "beautiful and true advice". Invest in yourself, true then true today.

What Alex learned during that seminar (he still can't recall if it was two days or a week) was to "be yourself". He noticed a tall lanky character strolling through the halls. This guy seemed out of place with all the suits and leather briefcases. Alex himself felt out of place. Who was this guy? Turned out to be the last speaker, a gentleman named Lee Clow. Alex recalls he was really excited to hear him speak because he recognized his name from the annuals and connected to a lot of his favorite things. "But by this point in the seminar I was pretty beaten down and didn’t really care to hear any more about how tough and confrontational you had to be to do good work" Alex recalls. "So I took a seat way in the back to make my ultimate escape from his presentation and advertising in general a little easier".

That curious guy walking the halls was introduced, "Lee Clow you can probably imagine how surprised I was to see the freak walk up and take the podium. This guy wasn’t faking it. He clearly didn’t have time for a lot of the bullshit or the false trappings of business". It was at that moment that Alex Bogusky discovered he could belong in advertising and make a difference. "Do great work and believe in your work".  Alex has told this story many times over (including a lunch I hosted with Alex and several of my students in Toronto) that day "Lee Clow kept me in advertising. I’m so thankful that I had the chance to see through his example I didn’t have to pretend to be anything. I could just be Alex Bogusky. A guy who works in advertising and does the best he can. In spite of the fact that he’s a freak, too".

He has remained true to the epiphany he had that day.

Remaining true to who what matter most to him he relocated from Miami to Boulder with his family when Crispin Porter & Bogusky opened its office there and since then he has been taking full advantage of the qualities of life style that Colorado offers.

In fact, Alex was on bike ride when he found out that MDC released its "official" statement on Thursday morning.


It what legends are made of.

Alex Bogusky, became one of the most-heralded creative executives in advertising for his work for brands like Burger King, Best Buy, Dominos and the BMW Mini Cooper. Not bad.

Just pick up a copy of Hoopla. This brilliant retrospective complied by CP+B and edited by Warren Berger chronicles the revolution with insider emails, emails between creative thinkers and illustrations, plenty of illustration of the great work.

What he leaves behind is a business that will never be the same. Not the business that shifts and changes like the weather. What he left behind is a business he and all those creative minds he worked with was a second "Golden Creative Age" and "Creative Revolution" (the Bernbach/Lois era being the first). Always creating messages that specialized in risk-taking, rule-breaking campaigns was the genius part is that defines his work. He persuaded clients to run ads that changed culture and their status, not simple companies peddling products and services. How interactive media would be used and defined happened under his watch.

Most significant was what CP+B did for a fading brand Burger King who at the time had advertising that was generally seen as boring, irrelevant and unimaginative. Think back to the "Subserviant Chicken" to see how that became the game changer and cultural movement. With 15 million hits the first 5 days and an average time spent on the site at an astounding 5 minutes and 44 seconds, word spread completely virally. Once the site and chicken were seeded mainstream they added more branding, commercials and easter egg commands to keep people talking and passing the site around. Now there have been well over 450 million hits to Subservient Chicken.

Creativity Online has a feature of the work that CP+B created under Alex's watch. (CLICK TO VIEW)


At 8:57am I received an email containing details of the MDC Media Release of Alex Bogusky resigning for MDC Partners and by 9:15am Advertising Age website posted the "news" that Alex Bogusky has indeed resigned as Chief Insurgent Officer of MDC Partners. By 9:16 the TweetDeck on my iPhone was vibrating every second. Timing is everything, the stock market opening (MDCA - Nasdaq) within the hour and the news was a shocker.

The tweets ranged from just people sending links to the story to "thanks Alex you're a legend" to speculation that is was a directive from Miles Nadal and his concerns from clients like Burger King who may be feeling that Alex had crossed the line with his personal view points he posted recently on his blog on the subjects of child obesity and even the concept of advertising to children.

Alex Bogusky, who will be 47 later this month, maintained his bright whit and sense of humor when he wouldn't characterize his decision to as a midlife crisis, jokingly he said, “I’ve had so many.” (Fast Company magazine is currently working on a profile of Alex is described as “a midlife crisis story,” focused on his personal interests the beyond advertising world.)

When I had the pleasure of hosting Alex for a lunch with a small group my students and alumni in the Spring of 2008, he was sure to remind us that what we are doing is art and craft, but be passioante and true to yourself. He said, “find and follow your bliss, there will be a time you will start to search for your genuine self”. In an interview with the New York Times shortly after his announcement, he made pretty much the same statement but added, "I'm at that point in my life, and I’m doing that. I’m exploring and figuring out what is that genuine version,” he added, “and it’s not really consistent with corporate life” because in that realm “you’re kind of in the ‘get yours’ mode.”

So what should Alex Bogusky’s next move be? Many think he will continue be a voice of reason for the many causes he keeps near and dear to his heart. He answered the New York Times with the honesty we have come to understand and respect:

“I don’t think I’ll do much advertising” moving forward, Mr. Bogusky said, because “I’ve done plenty of it; I’m not able to find challenges in it.”

“Mostly, what I want to do is participate in this cultural revolution that’s happening,” he added, “happening mostly outside of advertising.”

“The more interesting stuff is coming from the fringes,” Mr. Bogusky said, “and that’s where I want to be.”

“My vision of advertising was always sort of culture jamming,” he added, using a term that refers to efforts to upend or disrupt institutions that include advertising, and there are increasingly ways to get people to talk about brands outside of the traditional realm.

“Social media is a fun place,” Mr. Bogusky said, “and an amazing tool that’s making it more possible” to reach consumers “without the budgets” because “you don’t need the money now” that was once required to reach them through ad campaigns.

“I’m very curious about where it’ll go,” he said of social media. He also listed potential interests that include “ideas for TV shows I could be involved with, as a host or in a producer or director capability.”

And “a fair amount of what I will do will not be for profit,” Mr. Bogusky said, citing interests like mentoring.
Among Mr. Bogusky’s recent non-advertising pursuits, he has written a couple of books "9 Inch Diet" and "Baked In", hosted on an online talk show "FearlessQA" and spoken out about the nations food, child obesity, advertising to children and environment.

According to Bogusky, “Miles (Miles Nadal the CEO of MDC) started getting phone calls from some clients that didn’t like things that I had said”. Alex has been know to annoy clients as far back as when he published a book titled “9-Inch Diet” exposed the way America's diet and asses have been supersized.  Of course that didn’t sit well with clients Burger King and Domino’s. Today both his blog and online broadcast (FearlessQA) tackle the issues of genetically-modified food and certainly brings into questions overall "consumerism". Alex is quoted, “Miles (Nadal) was cool about it, but to me I just thought this is going to happen over and over, and I’ve barely begun. It’s like, everyone’s got enough going on, so I don’t want MDC to have to deal with damage control. So Miles and I basically went back to Plan A... retirement.”

Recently he produced a brilliant video message on "global warming". In this simple two minute video, Alex brings to point the current issue of  "global warming" and relating it to pollution. Using the famed "Crying Indian" featuring actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody (he wasn't really a chief or native american) from 1971, using the original spot and his updated message, Alex demonstrated that "pollution is bad, clean is good", so anything that effects global warming is bad. Carbon in the air is bad. Less of it is good. Focus on the problem. Solve the problem. And leave the scientific and political blather out of the room.

(Note: The "Crying Indian" was created by Marsteller Inc. The spot won two Clio awards and the campaign was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine.)


He hasn’t said what he’ll do next, but there are several interesting things he’s been exploring. Trust me if he can match his success at CP+B in any other endeavor, the results will be amazing. But that raises another question: What does his departure mean for Crispin Porter + Bogusky?

Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been left in great hands. In early 2008 when Alex and Chuck Porter were named co-chairman, they left the day-to-day creative voice and direction in the hands of great creative thinkers Andrew Keller and Rob Reilly. Together they have lead a brilliant team of inspired and brave "thinkers", Jeff Benjamin, Tiffany Kosel, David Wright, Ari Merkin, Bill Wright, Faris Yakob, Scott Prindle and many others who are rewriting the rule book every day for a stellar list of clients that grows with each new innovation or strategic approach that just makes the industry stop take notice. No just on the creativity, but the influence it has on the media, culture and most importantly the audience.

The current client list includes Burger King, Microsoft, Domino’s Pizza, Coke Zero, Guitar Hero, Old Navy, Gap, AMEX, Kraft, Best Buy and Geek Squad and remain one of the most awarded agencies in the world with the unprecedented distinction of winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in five separate categories. The agency has been named Agency of the Year twelve times in the advertising trade press, as well as being named Interactive Agency of the Year at Cannes three times.

There is no sign of this stopping as they attract the top talent from around the world. They draw deep from the well of all the advertising schools were the work of CP+B is featured at the top of every case study whether on creativity, strategy and innovation. This year I am proud say that we have our first intern hired in the Boulder office.


There is certainly no shortage of content on the internet about Alex Bogusky, including lists of things you would never believe or think to ask.

Yes he loses his wallet way more often than most people. He would be perfectly content eating Tex Mex food every day for the rest of his life. Most Mondays, he will come to work with at least one bloody, puss-oozing injury.

He rarely drinks anymore, but when he does he goes straight for the tequila. He has the attention span of a mating fruit fly.

In grade school, his teacher recommended he be put in a special class.

He owns eleven bicycles, four dirt bikes and one crotch rocket He has a photographic memory, but only for ads.

He has an irrational dislike of St. Louis. Yet many of his favorite people are from St. Louis.

At one time, he was a good enough motocross racer to turn pro. His mom and dad are both designers and more talented that he is.

And he cuts his own hair. With a Flowbie.

One of the best things I stumbled upon was a comment posted on Alex's blog the day of his announcement where he described the day he knew it was time to "stop and smell the flowers". It was posted by a very bright, whity and now obsessed advertising creative former neurologist named Zayra Rubin from New York. After reading his posting Zayra summed things up perfectly, words I couldn't find but felt deeply. Thanks Zayra.

I guess this is all the more poignant after today's news. And I guess we'll be like two ships who pass in the night, both on similar journeys in opposite directions. We've never met but just know that you have inspired me to do courageous, foolish and awesome things.

A few short years ago I was a neurologist. No, really. I literally lived in the hospital, watched people die on a daily basis, and saved some lives along the way. But I certainly didn't smell any flowers. Hell, I barely saw daylight. But I did it because I knew it all mattered and I didn't really see any other way.
It's a long story with a lot of steps in between, but now I'm actually headed towards a career in advertising. I know, I know, crazy, right? But it's exactly like you said earlier this week: it's about knowing who you really are and truly living that.

It's also about a Turkish proverb I came across some years back that got me through the worst of it: "No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road; turn back." I guess sometimes that road can be right for a while, but wrong in the end.

Ironically, I just posted an old entry of yours about meeting Lee Clow as a young creative, almost exiting the business, but being inspired to stay, and I thought to myself: "Shit, Alex Bogusky almost quit advertising before he even started? Now THAT would have been a great loss!"

Now I'm saying advertising's loss is going to be something else's gain; because whatever you pursue you will do it with grace, excellence and awe-inspiring brilliance.

And just know how many of us you have inspired along the way.

Peace out.
So, like I said at start of this posting I wasn't sure how to approach this since almost everything I have read these past few days was reading and sounding like an obituary. I wanted to honor and thank Alex, yet I don't want to be just another "Alex is gone. now what?" Sure I have referred to him as "Jesus of Boulder" for his working mud into miracles. Be it people, clients or causes he has helped build a creative revolution not seen since Bill Bernbach and George Lois both inspired the first "Golden Creative Age" of advertising.

Hopefully this isn't one of those postings.

Good-bye is may be to strong. As the french say " a bientôt pour le prochain".


1 comment:

Shisha said...

Oh Anthony, this is such a beautiful piece of writing, the best I have ever seen on this blog and there have been many great ones. I wish with every fiber of my being that Alex wasn't leaving advertising. I selfishly wanted more magic, more humanity where humanity isn't always possible and more humility where egos are so bloated. There will only ever be one Alex Bogusky and that saddens me, because I advertising was a better place with him in it.

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