Alex Bogusky, the ad world’s agile master of reinvention, has now paired up with new media outfit, Fusion, which itself hopes to reinvent media. Fearless, as Bogusky and Fusion’s “full-service social impact agency platform” is called, will work with companies, foundations, and nonprofits looking to court Fusion’s millennial audience through socially minded campaigns that span TV, digital, and social. The agency will execute everything from concept to media planning to measurement.
Fusion, an experimental offshoot of ABC and Univision, is a two-year-old millennial-focused cable channel, digital news property, and ideally, “innovation lab” for the parent companies trying to navigate the shifting media terrain. Along with recruiting a high-profile arsenal of journalists–Jezebel‘s Anna Holmes and Reuters’ Felix Salmon, and the former head writer of The Daily Show among them–this development underscores one facet of what a new age media company needs to look like. Through Fearless, the two-year-old media startup can now offer baked-in-creative services for its advertisers, much like Vice or The Onion. In an ideal world, think a social action version of BuzzFeed’s wildly catnippy “Dear Kitten”web series and Super Bowl ad, produced by BuzzFeed‘s team for Friskies cat food. It’s a not-unexpected development for a media company looking to be competitive.
But for Bogusky, the move is arguably more interesting. Once dubbed (by us) as “the Steve Jobs of advertising,” this is Bogusky’s latest attempt at reinserting himself back into the world of advertising he swore off. As the once chief creative and co-chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the longtime hottest ad agency in the country, adland’s bad boy was known for dreaming up Burger King’s most artery-attacking “innovations,” including Chicken Fries (chicken fingers turned into French fries), Meat’normous (with 47 grams of fat, the breakfast sandwich was dubbed “a heart attack on a bun”), and Flame (a flame-broiled-meat-scented cologne). But as Fast Company chronicled intimately in its “The Adman Wants a Soul,” in 2010 Bogusky abruptly left CP+B and shunned the field of advertising in favor of finding a new path. “I’ve freed myself from Crispin,” he exhaled to Fast Company. “I have to go figure out, What the fuck is Alex? I don’t know.”
Bogusky’s philosophical reckoning was complicated: A lifetime of hawking for companies was suddenly replaced by a newfound conviction to change the inequities of Wall Street, the flaws of corporate structure, and the need for social and environmental transparency. Yet, as we discovered in our reporting, many former colleagues who likened Bogusky to everyone from Citizen Kane (“the most miserable rich guy”) to Fidel Castro (“megalomaniac, sociopath, narcissist”) to Hannibal Lecter (“the handsome guy behind the Plexiglas”) didn’t buy the act. It turns out Bogusky’s crisis in conscience also happened to coincide nicely with some $25 million in payouts from CP+B’s parent company, MDC. And if there was one thing Bogusky was master of, it’s rebranding–only this time, instead of someone else’s product, it was himself. Said one creative director of Bogusky: “He’s a combination of believing something and being so good at selling it that you can’t tell the difference between the two.”
In 2010, when we visited him in Boulder, Colorado, he shuffled around what he called his “FearLess Cottage,” a bungalow in an idyllic mountain setting, and said he was trying to “push aside fear in pursuit of doing the right thing” and “help define a new era of social responsibility.” At the time he was inviting environmental and food activists to his modest hub to explore ideas while figuring out what might be next for him. But it was still unclear what was genuine exploration and what was a rebranding campaign. “Much of what Bogusky presented as part of his personal transformation—collaboration over competition, transparency over inscrutability, sustainability over excess—are the cornerstone issues of today’s most progressive businesses,” we wrote skeptically. “These are big ideas, but they’re typically more the stuff of repositioning corporations than humans undertaking a gut-wrenching internal audit.”
It turns out, however, over the past four years, Bogusky has managed to stay the course, channeling his talents toward causes he appears to care about. He’s involved with Made Movement, a Boulder-based ad shop that only works with clients who produce American-made products. He was behind an aggressive anti-Coca-Cola campaign on behalf of SodaStream, and donated $100,000 to support a California ballot proposition that would require special labels for foods containing GMO ingredients. He’s an investor and mentor in Boomtown Accelerator, a new 12-week entrepreneurship program in Boulder, and cofounded Common, described as “a worldwide collaborative community of creative and business professionals, designed to accelerate social innovation by redefining the capitalist narrative.” He’s rarely been spotted on Madison Avenue, the Croisette during the Cannes Lions, or involved in crude Mad Men-style stunts.
Which makes his new agency, Fearless (yes, I guess a derivative of the FearLess Cottage), the biggest stage he’s pursued under his new persona. “Millennials are the largest, most diverse generation in history,” Bogusky says in a promotional video for the new venture. “But where others see a hot demographic, we see people who…want to make a difference.” Maybe this time we’ll give Bogusky, who in the late ’90s created the famous body-bag anti-smoking “Truth” campaign, the benefit of the doubt.