Why CSPI Asked Alex Bogusky to Work on Anti-Soda Video

Advocacy Group Admired CP&B's 'Truth' Anti-Tobacco Work

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Alex Bogusky
Alex Bogusky

As he neared the end of his tenure at MDC Partners' CP&B, Alex Bogusky began being more vocal about his support for various causes. He has since advocated for everything from climate-change awareness in partnership with Al Gore to, along with his wife, promoting U.S.-made products and clothing.

But it wasn't one of these more recent efforts that prompted the D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest to tap him for its new social-media project that takes on big soda companies. CSPI says it has long admired the work he did more than a decade ago while at CP&B for the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" campaign.

That campaign, which was led out of CP&B's Miami office (then the agency's headquarters, before Mr. Bogusky moved the main office to Boulder, Colo.), featured unconventional, arresting creative to provide stats about addiction and the health effects of smoking. The work netted more than 300 awards for advertising efficacy, and the American Legacy Foundation claims to have helped accelerate the decline in youth smoking rates.

CSPI says 'Real Bears' could wind up on TV.
CSPI says 'Real Bears' could wind up on TV.

The way in which Mr. Bogusky took aim at Joe Camel and big tobacco appears to have inspired the approach used in "The Real Bears" -- a scathing satire of Coca-Cola's polar bears and use of happiness as a platform to sell soda. CSPI's stated mission with its new video is to "burst Big Soda's bubble" and motivate Americans to reduce the $50 billion they spend each year on sugary drinks.

In one
In one "Truth" campaign ad, tobacco companies are compared to selling Popsicles filled with shards of broken glass.

In a statement, CSPI said it entrusted this project to Mr. Bogusky and his Common collaborative as a result of the "The Truth." Even the PR firm that was hired to defend the beverage companies -- APCO -- is the same that was used to counter the anti-tobacco work.

Said CSPI: "Bogusky is well-known for his interest in personal wellness, and at his former shop he created the 'Truth' anti-smoking campaign in Florida, which went on to be a national campaign."

"I've had my share of soda, and I don't imagine a world without it," said Mr. Bogusky, named executive creative director for "The Real Bears," in a statement. "But sugary drinks have gone from an occasional treat to an every-occasion beverage. This project attempts to contrast the marketing hype around soda with the stark reality, and it is my hope that it makes a small contribution to a critical cultural awakening. We need to connect the dots between what we are sold, what we consume and how sick we have become."

Mr. Bogusky had help from a team of designers and producers to create the animated video (shown below). That team included the Butler Brothers in Austin, Texas, which has worked on the Climate Reality effort that Mr. Bogusky was also associated with, as well as the Livestrong movement; two former CP&B creatives, Ronny Northrup and Ryan Kutscher (the latter of whom is now at JWT); and Lucas Zanotto, a designer and animator based in Finland who's worked for Nickelodeon and travel company TUI.

There is one big difference, however, between CSPI's "Real Bears" campaign and "Truth."

The "Truth" campaign was the result of a massive settlement with tobacco companies and was funded with their help. It came out of a settlement in the '90s between the state of Florida and tobacco companies that was worth more than $11 billion dollars, with a big chunk earmarked for youth education and anti-tobacco marketing. That's what allowed the campaign to be so broadly disseminated. "The Truth" even undertook the most expensive and high-profile ad buy there is : a spot during the Super Bowl in 2004.

In contrast, CSPI funded the filmmaking by itself, begging the question of whether most average Americans will ever see the ad.

There is a possibility, though, that the campaign could expand from social to traditional media. Jeff Cronin, head of communications for CSPI told Ad Age in an e-mail: "Without tipping our hand too much, I think it is fair to say that 'The Real Bears' might end up on television in some form. But I have no details to share on a potential commercial buy."

To be sure, it's a much different world than when "The Truth" was released. When it comes to advertising today, marketers have the ability to leverage social media to air ads for free on YouTube. And often ads go viral before a paid media buy supports the effort. Chipotle's "Back to the Start" film featuring a Coldplay song garnered millions of YouTube views and lived solely online for months before airtime was purchased for the ad to run during the Grammys.

Additionally, in the first day of its launch, "Real Bears" has had well-known folks such as Arianna Huffington, Morgan Spurlock ‏and Andrew Zimmern tweeting about the effort and urging their followers to "learn the truth about soda."

Still, as of the posting of this story, nearly 24 hours after the video was made live, it had less than 12,000 views. CSPI is hoping to see the video go viral with the help of consumers getting the word out. Said Mr. Cronin: "We have spent considerable effort on an ambitious social media plan to 'Share the Bears,' and it's nice to see #TheRealBears hashtag gaining some traction."

Although Jason Mraz lent his vocals to the track behind the "Real Bears" video, thus far, he's not done any marketing around it, and it's unclear how the song will be made available to fans. Said Mr. Cronin: "I do not know if Jason's song 'Sugar' will be available for sale or download. I believe that is a matter for Atlantic Records to decide. But we're very glad to have the song and it's clearly helping to fuel a great deal of interest on social media today."

Atlantic Records said Mr. Mraz was not available for comment.

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