July 12, 2010
For the better part of our new century, one “ad” agency has dominated the media landscape, transcending advertising and changing marketing forever. This same agency not only managed to thrive during economic turmoil but continuously spat in the face of industry naysayers and doom and gloom mongers, all the while making game changing, firestorm igniting, award winning, fame inducing, I-wish-I’d-done-that, kind of work.
Of course I’m talking about Crispin Porter & Bogusky. I once called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time. A huge compliment, I know. Yet, I agree with the comparison now more than ever. CP&B has done to our business (and popular culture) exactly the same thing DDB did almost fifty years ago: Changed it. 4EVR.
Crispin’s version of Bill Bernbach? Alex Bogusky. And now, at the relatively young age of 47, Bogusky is resigning from the agency that bears his name, presumably to write books, ride bikes, stop the BP oil leak, and then some. Having received considerable earn out from MDC’s purchase of the agency, Alex can do whatever the hell he wants. Apparently, that includes bidding adieu (at least temporarily) to Ad Land.
For those living in a trailer down by the river, Alex Bogusky has been the agency’s creative leader since its inauspicious beginning some 25 years ago in Miami. His creative philosophy likely began the same way yours and mine did, to do persuasive communication that is smart, beautiful and entertaining. But it rapidly evolved into something unique and, at times polarizing. Pre-supposing social media and all that it entails, Alex wanted a Fame Factory for his clients, an agency that created conversations not just ads. It’s motto: “Don’t show me a script, show me the press release.”
CP&B’s anti-smoking “Truth” campaigns put the agency on the map. Launching the Mini-Cooper in America didn’t hurt. Then Burger King, Ikea, VW and more. CP&B was off to the races and just as quickly “off the chain.” Like it or not, no other agency generates heat –for their clients and for themselves- like Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
And so his resignation has caused a furor. Fast Company printed this story, painting a snarky picture, especially as it related to MDC Chairman & CEO, Miles Nadal. The piece made Alex out to be an “existential, rock star” (cool!) and Miles some sort of jilted “life partner.”
On their own blogs, Nadal and Bogusky quickly came out in refutation of the Fast Company story. Their passionate yet professional replies likely tell a far more truthful rendition of the story than the one posited by Fast Company. I’ve posted them here:
Yet, these are more refutations than explanations…
Why did Alex Bogusky resign? I’m not a journalist and I’m not looking for angles. But I am deeply curious. Here’s a man at the top of his game, doing a job most of us can only dream of doing, and he just walks away. Why? I’m certain it wasn’t a business decision. Far from it. Next post, I’ll share comments made by one of his partners and bits from a conversation I had with him as well. Who knows; maybe resigning was a hoax. Just more hoopla. And I mean that in a good way.
So, I was heading to the Palais des Festivals for the awards ceremony honoring radio, media and outdoor Lions, when I noticed a cocktail party taking place on the swank, poolside terrace beside my hotel. Not being a drinker, I could care less about the open bar; it’s the people that make these things work.
And man, did I see people. Kraft Foods was hosting a gathering to honor one of their guests, who was featured at one of the better-attended events at the Palais, none other than the famed auteur, Spike Jonze.
For those unawares, Jonze directed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are. Two of these films are in my top twenty of all time and all three are universally regarded as brilliant. In addition to revolutionizing music videos, he’s also made numerous groundbreaking films for our industry, including one of the best commercials ever created, Ikea Lamp, which garnered every award possible the year it came out, not the least of which a Grand Prix at Cannes. This year he has a 30-minute film in the show about robot love. The piece can be viewed here: Spike Jonze Film \"I\'mheremovie\"
Confession: Hours ago I played courier in a futile attempt to deliver my novel, The Happy Soul Industry and screenplay to his hotel. Yeah, I know, a total mook move. But a guy can dream…
Along with Mr. Jonze, attending the party were Bob Jeffries, Howard Draft, Dana Anderson, Ron Bess, Jonathan Harries, David Jones, Mark Figliulo, Abbey Klaassen, Diane Jackson, Lisa Wells, Tony Weisman, Edie Weiss and leadership personnel from USA Today, Hyper Island, MJZ films and countless other Ad Land movers and shakers. To appropriate a phrase from high school: it was like the C-Suite “on acid.”
Needless to say, I missed the awards ceremony. But that’s the thing with Cannes. Everywhere you turn is an existing/potential boss, partner, competitor, or client and, most importantly, mentor. To meet some of these people, however briefly, is a privilege. And besides, even if Spike Jonze has little interest in my book, I can now say I had a meeting with him!
To view a wide selection of Jonze’s work: Spike\'s ouevre.
Per usual, a great many short-listed adverts in the press and poster categories in Cannes are driven by their visuals. Assume similar for films. This has come to be expected; after all, it’s an international festival. Words are not the same everywhere. Not only is translating copy an imperfect means of determining its exact meaning (wordplay hardly ever comes across) but, let’s be honest, judges are impatient to do so. Jet lagged and jaded from hundreds of submissions, how can we expect each and every judge to take the necessary time to read the provided –often flawed- translations? It’s not fair –to them and the submitting agencies.
President and co-chief creative officer of the Martin Agency, Mike Hughes wrote an excellent article last week in Ad Age entitled, “Why Judging for International Awards Shows is Broken.”
In it, he writes: “I confess that I often can’t even tell how good the craftsmanship is on many foreign pieces of work. How do I know if the writing’s sharp or if the use of local idioms is relevant when all I’ve got is a translation?”
But here we are and that’s the way it’s done. That said, pictures –be they illustration or photography- do translate across cultural divides. While aspects of the concept may yet be indigenous to a given population, and alien to others, an image fares infinitely better at being interpreted correctly than a piece of copy. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Which is why so many of the submissions to Cannes also go without saying. (Point in fact there is little chance my hopefully clever double usage of the phrase “goes without saying” would ever come across translated in 17 different languages.)
And so we “see” more and more visually stunning ads in Cannes than we do copy-driven work. Maybe this isn’t so bad? Maybe it’s indicative of our shrinking world, whereby people from all walks of life are juxtaposed more than ever. The advent of social media has only turned up the heat. It’s like the melting pot at full boil.
In addition, for better or worse, I’d argue we are becoming an ever more visually driven world. Instead of all learning a common vocabulary we are increasingly reliant on images to communicate. This was said when TV first entered our lives, changing them forever. And it has only become more so.
As a wordsmith, I suppose I find the continuing transformation bittersweet. Watching communication be whittled down to 140 characters on Twitter or brief updates on Facebook can be disheartening.
On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t appreciate the changes either. Hell, I’m a part of them. I now use words to create images. I write stories (advertising and fiction), seeing the narratives in my head. Frankly, I started doing this a long time ago. Truth be told, agents and editors were quick to criticize my two books, The Last Generation and The Happy Soul Industry as being more like screenplays than novels. Younger people, however, appreciated them for precisely the same reason.
And so it goes at Cannes. The new breed of marketing communications is quicker: mobile technology, Apps, links, shared video, posters and design. A picture is truly worth a 1,000 words. Or millions of dollars, like this short-listed poster for the Illinois Lottery from Chicago’s own Energy BBDO.