Good company: Alex Bogusky
Alex Bogusky joined Miami-based ad agency Crispin and Porter as art director in 1989, but he never saw himself as a “lifer” anywhere. He added his surname to the agency’s nameplate in less than a decade and racked up industry accolades, awards and an affinity for outside-the-box campaigns. But in October 2010, Bogusky announced via Twitter he would be leaving his self-created post as “Chief Insurgent Officer” at CP+B’s holding company, MDC Partners, to pursue new ventures.
ColoradoBiz sat down with the 51-year-old Bogusky to catch up on his post-CB+B life.
CB: You’re the son of two designers: a studio owner dad and magazine art director mom. So, did you color more than the average child?
AB: The thing is, if you’re the son of a cobbler, you don’t want to be a cobbler. So I don’t think I was attracted to it. [Design] was sort of a fallback. Professional motocross didn’t work and it was like, well I could always do that thing.
How did it go from a “fallback” to you eventually earning the nickname of “Advertising’s Elvis?”
I started working in design at my dad’s studio and I liked it. When he got sick I took over – I was 24 at the time. And one of my clients was Chuck Porter. He used our studio for design.
The best thing that happened to me was the realization that I could just outwork everybody.
[A few years later] I decided I had to get out of print because there’d be no such thing as a print designer within the next year or two. And I thought I’ve got to learn television. And who did I know who worked in television? Oh, Chuck Porter.
And at that point, Crispin and Porter wasn’t a big, national agency. Was there a game-changing moment?
The ‘Truth’ campaign was a really significant win. That was the anti-tobacco campaign.
Our research showed that if you told kids not to smoke, they would because the whole point of smoking was to take control of your life. That was troubling, because we didn’t want to be part of making it worse. Later we developed a strategy to take that rebellion that’s a natural part of that age and turn it against the industry. The epidemiologists said this will never work. I remember being in this room surrounded by scientists and they’re like, ‘How do you know it will work?’ and I said, ‘We don’t, but we know what you’re doing now is backfiring.’
And that series of ads went on to become one of the most successful social marketing campaigns of the time. From there you had a run at the Land Rover account. What went wrong?
I wore jeans to the final presentation. That’s what they told us. I was like, ‘What? Do you not want me to wear pants – that’s all I got.’
But while we were pitching Land Rover, I kept thinking, … I wish there was a little, tiny car that I could advertise.
And then MINI [Cooper] calls.
… Getting America to think small cars were cool, that felt nice.
Not many people can say, ‘I got America to do, think, feel’ anything. Does that make you feel powerful?
I used to really enjoy the culture jamming part of it. There was kind of a power trip thing. I thought, ‘Oh, people think this way. I wonder if we can get them to think this way.’ And then you do it a few times, and at least for me, it was like, yep, we can.
But … so what?
What inspired your great westward migration from Florida to Colorado?
There was a hurricane. I had always thought I wanted to move out West before my kids got into junior high. My son was 10 (now 18) and my daughter was 7 (now 15) and we were fleeing this hurricane. We couldn’t get flights to New York and my wife was like, ‘You’re always talking about moving to Boulder. Let’s go check it out.’ So we did and we were here for three weeks and we did Halloween on Pearl Street and that was it.
But you ultimately left CP+B behind in 2010 – a move that some have framed as pivotal, full of soul searching and spirituality. Can you unpack that?
It was really fun growing the agency. [Crispin] was giant. There were no little, cool brands that I could get that would make any impact on my billings. At that point, you’re just feeding a monster. If you do a billion dollars in billing and a client doesn’t do $200 million in advertising, then it’s like, you can hardly talk to them. So your universe gets really small and generally what you’re doing in advertising with a client that size is trying to support the status quo. I was always excited about overturning the status quo. MINI is fun. General Motors is not fun.
So, then what?
Well, [as of July 2012] I’m an investor and adviser in the Made Movement.
Dave [Schiff] was one of the best creative directors we had [at CP+B] and a good friend. We would meet for breakfast and riff on ideas and he was like, ‘You know, if I could do anything, what I’d really like to do is an agency that’s focused on American-made things.’ This was three years ago. I felt at the time that moving production back [to the U.S.] was just another way to be considerate about your purchases, right?
Aside from Made, you’ve got Skoop, a nutritional supplement company; another agency you’re creative adviser and investor in called Humanaut; you’ve worked with Al Gore on his Climate Reality Project; produced a reality Web series; and you have Boomtown, which is…?
[When I was] over at Crispin, and kind of not loving it, I thought startups were cool and what I was doing was lame. This is five years ago. I always found small and disruptive cool. So I was really jealous when I’d meet startups in town. Whether its governments or companies, when they get really big, they start to stand in the way of the natural evolution of things. Startups are like the extreme sports of business. For me, that’s base-jumping right there. Chances are you’re not going to succeed, statistically. The mythology of success generates a lot of excitement.
So Steve Groth and I were thinking about doing a tech accelerator and we thought there was some space to do something around ad tech as a vertical. That was our notion, and then we met Toby [Krout] and Jose [Vieitez] who had been working on [Boomtown] for a while. So we combined forces and launched within like four weeks of talking to each other.
Outside of your investment in Boomtown, what does your participation entail?
I take one day a week to mentor and it’s more often than not my favorite day of the week. There’s something about being a little older — you start to love helping people. Selfishly, what I get out of it – it hurts and stretches my brain to understand what these incredibly bright entrepreneurs are doing and then figure out how to help. Prior to Boomtown, I felt like I was getting dumber every day. I didn’t have anything hard to think about. I started to play Luminosity, so my synapses wouldn’t die and rot and fall off. Boomtown has taken its place.