Alex Bogusky was the boy-king of advertising. Then, after moving much of his superstar firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky to Boulder, he retired from the ad world last July, causing shock waves. Now, installed in his Boulder-based FearLess Cottage, he's launched COMMON, a community-focused incubator and brand that, as he told a packed AIGA Colorado event at the Denver Art Museum this week, may change the way the world does business. Will it work?
First, let's look at what Bogusky has going for him. For one thing, the 47-year-old was the undisputed Caesar of the advertising biz, nimbly navigating the industry's technological upheaval. He helped boost companies like Burger King into billion-dollar profits, and in return made millions himself and was named Creative Director of the Decade by Adweek magazine last year. Then, he quit -- not because he'd screwed up or been forced out, but just because he wanted to.
From the looks of it, he now wants to apply that talent and success to the challenges he sees for society, for the environment, for future generations. Heck, it worked for Bill Gates -- why can't it work for the Bill Gates of advertising? Plus, he might be in the perfect place to launch his crusade. While Boulder doesn't have the cache of Silicon Valley or swagger of New York, big things are quietly happening in the once-staid People's Republic. Progressive passions are being mixed with savvy tech skills and injected with massive doses of venture-capitol funding. Word along the grapevine is that something momentous could soon blossom from this fertile environment. Who knows, Bogusky could be behind it.
And COMMON, the idea of "the world's first collaborative brand," does make some sense. As Bogusky pointed out in his talk at the DAM this week (a video of which can be found below), brands provide massive value to modern companies. Folks eagerly download programs and widgets because they're part of Google empire, and people rush out to buy the latest gizmo emblazoned with the holy Apple. If Bogusky can make COMMON a successful worldwide brand, endeavors launched under its visage the world over would have a major leg up.
And in a few short weeks, COMMON has already birthed some promising starts. Take Coffee Common, a United Nations of sorts for the country's leading high-end roasters that is all about spreading the word about the social challenges in coffee supply chain -- issues Westword probed in the feature "Pot of Gold." COMMON is also re-launching the Alabamboo Bike Lab, a project that sounds like a grassroots, sustainable version of Denver's B-cycle -- a program, by the way, that Bogusky helped launch.
Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Bogusky might not be the Messiah of Marketing. A probing piece in Fast Company noted that not everybody at Crispin Porter + Bogusky was sad to see their fearless leader go. Lots of employees quoted in the article called Bogusky manipulative, phony and selfish, suggesting Bogusky's new venture is just one more narcissistic element in the master marketer's attempt to bronze his personal brand.
Responses on the Denver Egotist to Bogusky's talk this week suggest Bogusky's ambiguous image has left people divided as to whether or not COMMON really will improve the common good. One commenter noted a few days after the event, "My head is still spinning. In a good way," while another grumbled, "Pretentiousness abounds."
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So what will it be? Will COMMON and Bogusky revolutionize the way we market and sell products? Or is it all well-meaning hot air? We'll just have to wait and see what comes next from Boulder's FearLess Cottage.
Here's the aforementioned video:
More from our Tech archive: "FunnyPoliceReports.com: Humor professor Peter McGraw gets into the online meme game." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner.