Alex Bogusky Says His Views Aren't Radical, And That He Never Really Left Adland

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In October 2010, in the wake of his loudly trumpeted departure from the ad business, Alex Bogusky blogged: "I think I'll be a consumer advocate for a while. I'm not sure a former advertising executive is allowed to become a consumer advocate, but I plan to give it a shot. This is still America after all."

Indeed, it is America, Alex.

His reemergence in adland is decidely American, actually, and it's also something of a soft landing. Mr. Bogusky is working with former CP&B colleagues (who also happen to be friends) on their startup focused on American manufacturing. It's dubbed Made Movement, and he is giving them both financial support and creative advice. The company is based where Mr. Bogusky lives, in Boulder. For the time being, he's only devoting half of his time to Made.

The reappearance of Alex Bogusky is a funny thing; for years, it was as if he was all you ever heard about in ad circles, and then, just like that, with his departure from MDC Partners two summers ago, all that chatter came to a screeching halt. The timing of his return is interesting, too. Ad Age has learned that his announcement about working with Made came within days of the expiration of a two-year noncompete agreement with MDC Partners that had tied his hands from working for rival ad companies. It suggests that, despite what may have been portrayed as an exit from the ad business at the time, Mr. Bogusky never quite intended to leave -- maybe just retreat for awhile.

How long could he have really stayed away from advertising, anyhow? Growing up with the influence of his dad's design shop in Miami and his mom's work as an art director for magazines, a career in the agency world was a no-brainer. Mr. Bogusky started at what then was known as Crispin and Porter Advertising in 1989 as an art director, and shot up the ranks from a creative director to partner to co-chairman. He later established his own title as "chief creative insurgent" at MDC.

There's no denying that Mr. Bogusky's presence at the shop was highly influential; for a long stretch, he was responsible for the work that had clients calling and encouraged them to take risks. He was also a leader capable of rallying the troops. After all, how many agency guys could convince a pack of creatives to leave their homes in Miami to move to Boulder?

But even though the agency was successful, much of the work Mr. Bogusky was doing at that time for brands such as fast feeder Burger King nagged at his conscience. After having made a lot of money creating advertising for those brands, he adjusted his world view, and spoke out about issues such as advertising to children. Increasingly Mr. Bogusky focused on a range of side projects, such as a diet book, and passions such as sustainable living. After leaving MDC, he created a "consumer bill of rights" and Common, a community to drive social change. He also has been filming an online talk show from what he calls the "Fearless Cottage."

With his return will come challenges. For one thing, while he's worked on marketing projects, it's been years since he has led traditional advertising campaigns for consumer brands.

And then there's the matter of whether or not his personal views -- organic and meatless food, low-carbon footprints, no advertising to kids -- will interfere with Made's ability to reel in new business. If his views spill over onto Made in that arena, would it bar the potential to work with companies that form the backbone of the American heartland, such as an Omaha Steaks or a Tyson Foods?

Mr. Bogusky answered some questions for us via email. We touched upon some interesting topics, like reconciling personal beliefs with client business and the desire to tie agency compensation to job creation. Have a look and then we want to hear what you think in the comments.

Ad Age: Why did you come back?

Alex Bogusky: I don't feel like I left marketing or that this is a "return." The first call I got after leaving MDC was from Al Gore to help out with rebranding the climate effort. That was all advertising and even got a Silver at Cannes this year. I've got some other marketing projects flowing through Fearless too that should break soon. Seems like other people look at it as a return which is great. It's been nice to feel welcomed back and it is a bit more formal.

Ad Age: Is it true that your noncompete just ended? And were you helping those guys to set up Made behind the scenes prior to the announcement?

Mr. Bogusky: Yes. Ended early July. [Made's creative leader] Dave Schiff is literally my best friend in the world, so I have been offering a lot of advice. But I haven't been able to be connected in any official way. I also still haven't literally put my money in. But all the partners have come to an agreement on that and we will execute on that soon.

Ad Age: Will your beliefs interfere with Made Movement's clients? What if Made takes on a client that doesn't jibe with your values -- would the agency pass on the client, or would it be a situation where you wouldn't work on the business?

Mr. Bogusky: It's certainly a possibility and we spoke about it a lot. But it seems to me that much of what might have seemed radical two years ago is rapidly becoming accepted. So far we haven't come across any clients that see me as much of a radical.

Ad Age: Is it possible to successfully run an agency while having such strict parameters? Is there enough business out there that aligns with your beliefs?

Mr. Bogusky: Yes. But I'm a person that has always believed in sacrifice. If you appeal to everybody you probably don't really stand for anything. The questions will be around how American does a product or offer have to be to be a fit [for the agency]. The reason we believe in this cause is, we've all seen too many friends and family out of work and struggling. It's not out of blind patriotism. Dave has said his dream client would be somebody who is beginning to bring more of their manufacturing onshore. I love that. Patagonia looks to be making moves to do that very thing. I think Made would love to help with that movement and that work to insure its success. That will be just as good a fit as a RedWing Boot. It's not about absolutes. It's about progress.

Ad Age: So that suggests that Made Movement's goals aren't just about advertising. Do you intend to work on actually spurring job creation in the U.S.?

Mr. Bogusky: Yeah. We want to track such things. Both for consumers and clients. The boom score for consumers [a metric used by Made's flash-sale website for U.S.-manufactured products telling shoppers how many American workers you are supporting] is the beginning of that but we can do more. And with clients we'd love to have performance compensation connected to job creation.

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