Creative All Star: Alex Bogusky

Alex Bogusky.

What just went on in your head when you read those words?

Envy, perhaps? Admiration? No doubt a confusing mix of love and hate as well.

Advertising loves its heroes. However, few of them are compared in gushing magazine articles to Jesus, or described in the blog of a fellow creative director as a “demi-god of advertising.”

But Bogusky was.

Even fewer ad icons walk away from the business at the height of their fame and power to dive into an apparently endless series of investments, partnerships, relationships and incubators, all designed not just — or even just — to sell stuff, but to make the world a better place for people, trees and, yes, even businesses.

But Bogusky did.

At the dawn of the digital era, creatives were slow to embrace the new technology, but Bogusky saw the possibilities and maximized them well before most of his peers. Interactivity. Engagement. Consumer control. Platform agnosticism. For Alex Bogusky, these aren’t objectives in a digitally enhanced ecosystem. They’re the sine qua non of effective communications in general.

There was, notoriously, Subservient Chicken, one of the campaigns that put his shop, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, on the national map. One of the earliest examples of just how strange online advertising could be, Subservient Chicken was a Web site built for client Burger King in which consumers could, by manipulating keyboard keys, make a guy in a chicken suit do just about anything.

“It looked live and really kind of freaked people out,” recalls Mark Taylor, former ECD at Crispin and most recently CCO at Energy BBDO. “It was originally a TV idea. Alex pushed us to make it more of an interactive idea. I don’t think anyone even remembers the TV.”

That was no accident. “I got into the business prior to the rise of the Internet, and the conversations that advertising made possible were always fascinating to me,” Bogusky explains. “So to me the idea of digital without interaction was always such a waste. Suddenly with digital, there was this incredible, real-time ability to engage with customers.”

The Miami native and son of two designers joined Crispin Porter in 1989 as an art director. Five years later, he was creative director. By the time he walked away in 2010, Bogusky was co-chairman of what had become the country’s most influential shop — and the only agency to date that has won a Cannes Grand Prix in every category.

(Indeed, Bogusky says the smartest business decision he ever made was when he and partner Chuck Porter determined that their then-small and undistinguished Miami shop’s mission would be “to be the most talked-about and written-about agency in America.”)

Theirs was an agency that truly lived by the notion of idea first,” says veteran media agency executive and former Chiat/Day media strategy director Fred Sattler. “While others gave lip service to this approach, CPB operated by and executed against this platform-agnostic philosophy.”

Indeed, just listing some of the business campaigns and communications created, supervised or inspired by Bogusky is like taking a technicolor trip through a slightly skewed and irresistibly fascinating Wonderland.

Subservient chickens. Lonely lamps (Ikea). Burger joints that refuse to serve their most popular burger (Burger King again). Selling one car by attaching it to the roof of a bigger car and filming it driving around (MINI)

“It was a wild ride,” says Taylor. “Alex was a force. The agency was a force. You got on board and you tried your best to hang on.”

Since he left Crispin, Bogusky has worked nonstop, manifesting his deeply held commitment to socially responsible business, often through Fearless Cottage, the Boulder, Colorado-based creative consultancy and incubator he launched with his wife, Ana Bogusky, and friend Rob Schuham.

These ventures include bamboo bicycles (Bogusky loves cycling), sustainable soda-making machines (a TV spot he created for SodaStream was banned in Britain for being “a denigration of the bottled drinks market”), COMMON (a collaborative brand), Boomtown (a startup accelerator for Internet, mobile and software ventures), and many others too numerous to list here.

If Elon Musk was an adman, he’d be Alex Bogusky.

“One well-trained person with a laptop in their backpack is as capable as all of JWT was in the seventies,” advertising’s erstwhile demi-god declares. “A single individual can design, research, create images, shoot video, and plan and buy media. I used to love sitting in the media department and riffing on how the creative strategy could show up implicitly in our media choices.

"Today I’d probably be doing test media buys all the time. I would be A/B testing six different edits and bringing the results to my client meeting … Boy, oh boy, I would be such a pain in the ass.”

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