Industry Split on Bogusky's Return to Ad Making: 'The Real Bears'

Is Post-Agency Life as Consumer Advocate Inspiring? Or Is Attacking Former Clients Hypocritical?

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Alex Bogusky was always a star in the adland limelight, and he leapt back into it last week with the release of a pointed video that not-so-subtly criticized former client Coca-Cola. The three-minute spot, for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stars a family of soda-guzzling polar bears dealing with dramatic long-term effects of a sugar-laden lifestyle—including diabetes, a foot amputation and rotting teeth.

Mr. Bogusky has been touting his career shift from, as he calls it, "brand advocate to consumer advocate," promoting such causes as healthful living and American manufacturing. The brand-advocate industry he left behind, however, doesn't know quite what to make of his return. It seemed evenly divided on whether the spot was inspirational or hypocritical for a man who got rich building out product ideas for fast feeders.

During his 20-year career as an advertising creative, Mr. Bogusky became one of the industry's best-known faces, earning heaps of Cannes Lions and leading former agency CP&B to be crowned "Agency of the Decade" by this publication.

Along the way, he did work for Domino's, Coca-Cola and Burger King—including for the latter developing product innovations such as Chicken Fries.

"You could probably argue that Chicken Fries has done more for BK's business than any amount of advertising we've done," Mr. Bogusky was quoted as saying in the 2010 book "The Idea Writers."

After a hiatus, he's doing advertising again. But these days, he has traded capitalism for causes. Mr. Bogusky recently donated his services as well as $100,000 in support of a California ballot proposition that would require special labels for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. He's worked with Al Gore on a campaign about climate-change awareness. And he is promoting products made in the United States, having joined Made Movement as an investor and adviser.

Mr. Bogusky's latest project was revealed last week in the form of "The Real Bears" video for CSPI. The animated short rails against sugary sodas, using happy music and benevolent bears, the very ad tactics employed by former CP&B client Coca-Cola.

Ad Age readers polled last week about their views on the ad and sentiments were split. Fifty percent called his move to promote a cause—even if it means railing against a former client—inspirational, while 50% marked the move as hypocritical.

Many of the industry's top creatives wouldn't comment on the record about Mr. Bogusky's new advocacy—either because they work for a large beverage marketer, are friends with him or have worked with him before. readers, however, were more vocal.

Boulder, Colo., resident Erica David brushed off the notion one couldn't stand up to a former client: "If he's making trouble for Coke and its ilk, that 's cause for respect. And as for biting the hand that fed ya, what could be more fundamentally American?"

Dave Tutin, from Santa Fe, N.M., had more of a problem with the execution than he did with the notion: "Everyone is allowed to learn and change. Could Mr. Bogusky do it with a little more grace and style? Absolutely."

Donna Cusano, from New York, called it "ethically interesting" that Mr. Bogusky had no problem lending his creativity to and taking money from both Burger King and Coca-Cola, "and then "revolted.'"

In the meantime, Mr. Bogusky's new video, "The Real Bears," gains momentum, netting 650,000 views in 36 hours with a little help from some big personalities, like media empress Arianna Huffington and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who both urged their followers on Twitter to view the video. There's a chance it could wind up on TV too, CSPI spokesman Jeff Cronin said.

As for the bears, Mr. Bogusky downplayed their resemblance to Coke's polar bears in a USA Today interview: "They're just some bears. I have no attorney. I leave it up to people to decide if they see a parallel."

In an email, Coke spokeswoman Susan Stribling told Ad Age : "This is irresponsible and the usual grandstanding from CSPI. It won't help anyone understand energy balance, which is key according to recognized experts who've studied this issue—a group that , by default, doesn't include CSPI. Enough said."

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