August 3, 2010

Crispin, Porter [minus] Bogusky. ~ Matas Vilgalys

“I worked in advertising for 20+ years. That was fun.”

~ Alex Bogusky’s bio on twitter.

Alex Bogusky, creative mastermind and a principal founder of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky has exited the world of advertising. As you already know.

Bogusky, who led CP+B to become one of the most-awarded agencies ever and was named Creative Director of the Decade by Adweek in 2009,  actually left Crispin five months ago.  According to an interview with Fast Company, he had been holding a temporary role as “Chief Creative Insurgent” with MDC partners, Crispin’s holding company…

…but has now “severed all ties.” [Emphasis added]

Alex Bogusky’s work has created some of the most major advertising, and cultural, memories of recent years.  In 1998, his award-winning and straightforward truth campaign scraped the sex out of cigarettes, a couple years later he disrupted the snowballing SUV trend by offering BMW’s Mini Cooper and getting consumers to think small as they did with the original VW Beetle.  Speaking of VW, he also had a hand in the vividly realistic television commercials for VW recreating graphic car crashes.  Even more widely, his work for Burger King offended various nations, groups, individuals and entire demographics via resurrecting The King icon as an eccentric and often impertinent harborer of meat.

Bogusky has said, “as a rule, we get off more on the culture-jamming aspect of what we do for clients than the actual advertising aspects. It makes people mad, but clients famous.”

After such a successful and driven career in advertising, building brands like Burger King and Mini Cooper into cultural icons, it’s no wonder that Bogusky wants and deserves some time off.  He has a family now, two kids and a wifey, and he’s already been actively creating work outside of the advertising realm.  He runs a blog, which elephant proudly works with, and has both published books and created an online talk show, Fearless Q&A, based around his passion for examining technology, consumerism, food and sustainability.

The ad world has been rocked by his departure. Why? Because he was so damn good.  It’s like watching Michael Jordan quit at the top of his game or the Beatles’ breakup, mostly because it seems too soon—and because it’s hard to expect them to be able to do anything else.

But outside expectations seem to be of little concern for a man with as much intellect as Bogusky.  His first couple interviews on the situation, for Fast Company and The NY Times, answer more about his decision to leave than on what he’ll be doing next.  This mystery fuels the debate for such a famed figure in the business, centered around the authenticity, motivation and intentions for his seemingly sudden transition toward prioritizing his personal interests over his professional exploits.

Bogusky has been referred to as both the Elvis of Advertising and Ad Jesus.

Though these titles rhetorically capture the revolutionary quality to his work, it seems, by way of recent events, baptizing him as the Jerry Maguire of the Ad World may be more fitting. Now, it’s impossible to say whether his decisions came via a late night manifesto moment like Jerry’s, but his new mission was formed in a seemingly similar way.  Both men, studly success stories with luscious heads of hair, having held dream careers in half a lifetime, have come to the decision that their work, no matter how major, culturally-relevant or profitable cannot account for the realization that giving is greater than receiving.

To be fair, Bogusky has already given much. He has created culture, both popular and insurgent, that has defined a significant portion of our contemporary world.  Poor Jerry never  had the chance to have such an abiding effect, mostly because the extra cheese on “you had me at hello” could have never endured our eat you up and spit you out culture, let alone a relationship outside of the realm of Hollywood schmaltz. However, with Bogusky’s departure, we are left with more than just VW commercials on youtube and tattered Burger King crowns.

If he had a Jerry moment, whether or not it came too late, aren’t we glad that it came?  The drive and creativity of his career are admirable enough. Following them up with a mindful rehashing of his life’s work seems to be the most ideal situation for anyone so gifted and powerful.  Sure, some of the clients he built his success through aren’t suited for a sustainable future, but at least he seems to be started toward one now.

And I, for one, am excited to see where he takes himself.

Matas Vilgalys is a senior at CU Boulder pursuing double degrees in Art and Advertising.  He likes cheese, working on projects, loving the mountains, running, and talking about North Carolina, the greatest state in the union and coincidentally where he is from.

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