Alex Bogusky, the creative guru who led Crispin, Porter & Bogusky to advertising greatness beginning in the early 2000s, is coming back to the agency he bolted in 2010. Agency chief Chuck Porter has called an all- hands-on meeting in the Boulder office today to announce the return of Bogusky as co-founder and chief creative engineer.
The move comes as CP&B and owner MDC Partners are trying to recapture their mojo. Perhaps not coincidentally, his return dovetails with the holding company's second quarter earnings report due today. Earlier this year, MDC Chairman-CEO Scott Kauffman called the holding company's first quarter results "unacceptable," citing a disappointing March and April.
In bringing back Bogusky, "I think they are trying to recapture some magic, get some attention back on the organization," said a person familiar with the matter.
"CP&B is in my blood, and MDC Partners continues to be the network where real innovation can thrive," Bogusky said in a statement about his return. "The CP&B brand has always been all about redefining advertising, and the opportunity to remake what it means to be a top-tier creative agency is too compelling to pass up. The timing is right."
Bogusky started as an art director in 1989 at what then was known as Crispin and Porter Advertising. He ascended to creative director five years later, became a partner in 1997 and a co-chairman in 2008. He took on an MDC-wide role in 2010, giving him oversight of the creative product across the holding company's entire portfolio of agencies.
On his watch, CP&B helped to usher in a new era of advertising integration, inspiring envy, and emulation from the rest of the industry. In Bogusky's world, creative, media, PR, production and design intertwined to create campaigns (if you can even call them that) that pulled from -- and became -- popular culture: Burger King's "Subservient Chicken," "King Games" and "Whopper Sacrifice," American Legacy's "Truth," Mini's "Counterfeits" and Domino's transition from purveyor of pizza to digital innovator among them. Along the way, he became one of the industry's most famous personalities.
In 2008, Bogusky published a book that in hindsight foreshadowed his future direction. "The 9-Inch Diet" focused on the need for portion control and the damage done by Americans' lack of discipline in that regard. "The premise of the book has to do with modifying your portions, not with what you eat," he told Ad Age at the time. "I love to eat, and I love to eat our clients' food," he said. "There is no conflict there."
Following his departure from Crispin, Bogusky began to focus on consumer advocacy and social initiatives. In 2010, he blogged, " 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."
That year, he launched "Fearless," a consultancy that supported consumer advocacy and sustainability. Out of that came Common, an open-source community platform dedicated to accelerating social ventures.
In 2012, Bogusky marked his return to the ad game by becoming a creative adviser and investor for Made Movement, a marketing agency dedicated to supporting American manufacturing. He remains an investor today, a representative confirmed this week. In 2013, he became an investor/consultant for Chattanooga, Tennessee-based agency Humanaut, started by his former CP&B creative David Littlejohn and his friend, Andrew Clark.
Bogusky still has his hands in plenty of projects. On his personal website and Twitter page (on which he's penned a total of 8 tweets) he touts his venture capitalist credentials. He is affiliated with Batshit Crazy Ventures, a Boulder, Colorado-based group whose interests lies in the "earliest of startup stages," according to its website. In January the group made an investment in an influencer marketing platform called influence.co.
As of January Bogusky was also leading brand strategy for Mahalo Spirits Group, a spirits marketer behind brands like Papa's Pilar Rum and Suerte Tequila. Mahalo and Bogusky recently worked with CP&B on branding for Treaty Oak Distilling, a craft spirits distiller in Texas, according to a January press release. Bogusky is also listed as a board member of Boulder-based Brandzooka, a self-service video advertising platform. Its clients include CP&B, according to its website. And he's engaged in plenty of recreational pursuits, judging by his Instagram page, which uses the subtitle, "dirt, snow, water and air."
As he settled into post-CP&B life, Bogusky became involved in creative endeavors that seemingly critiqued the corporate branding efforts he was once paid to create. In 2012 he was the executive creator for a video called "The Real Bears" that parodied Coke's iconic polar bears, portraying them as plagued by diabetes and other health issues. It was done on behalf of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a longtime critic of big food marketers like Burger King, for which Bogusky and his team had earlier done groundbreaking work.
Bogusky, who once had Coke as a client, came back with a 2015 ad for CSPI that spoofed the soda brand's classic "Hilltop" ad with a version that featured people afflicted with hypertension, diabetes and "soda-related obesity."
CP&B slowly lost its lofty status it enjoyed during the Bogusky era. Burger King split with the shop in 2011 after a seven-year run. By 2014 most of CP&B's best-known creatives and senior execs were no longer around, including Rob Reilly, Jeff Benjamin, Winston Binch, Ari Merkin and others.
CP&B shuttered its Miami office earlier this year, pulling the curtains on the place where the agency had first made a name for itself. Chairman Chuck Porter characterized it as a consolidation, but told Ad Age at the time that the move "breaks my heart." Today, CP&B operates in the U.S. from Boulder, Colorado, where it is headquartered, and Los Angeles. Global offices are in London, Copenhagen, Brazil and Beijing. The agency recorded an estimated $149 million in worldwide revenue in 2017, down 2.6 percent, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.
MDC Partners planned to report earnings on Thursday following market close. On an earnings call following its first quarter report, Kauffman spoke about the company's "rebalancing" initiatives, while analysts asked whether the company was shifting its strategy away from being a buyer to selling off assets.
Last week, the company laid off a portion of its leadership team — including its global CMO Bob Kantor. MDC Partners said in a statement that as it looks to refine the structure of its organization, it had made the "difficult decision to part ways with a small handful of individuals within our corporate team."
CP&B has also been caught up in #MeToo controversies. In February, it parted ways with its Chief Creative Office Ralph Watson following claims posted on the Diet Madison Instagram account. In June, Watson sued both Crispin and MDC for wrongful termination. That suit is ongoing.
In August of last year, September of 2017, CP&B tapped Forsman & Bodenfors' Erik Sollenberg as global CEO and the following month named Linus Karlsson as its new global chief creative officer. The award-winning creative had recently been overseeing Chevrolet for Commonwealth McCann.
CP&B reclaimed some momentum in May when it solidified its relationship with Infiniti after the auto brand cut ties with 72andSunny. Other clients include Hotels.com. Last year, CP&B gained notice for its "Swear Like a Mother" campaign for Kraft Mac & Cheese, which netted a Clio award. In early 2017, Domino's Pizza extended its agency-of-record relationship with CP&B to the end of 2020. CP&B also made the standout list in Ad Age's 2018 Agency A-List.
Contributors: Ann-Christine Diaz