The New Denver Ad Club hosted Alex Bogusky in an interview to mark their first big event since relaunching. The thing was kicked off by an entertaining film from from Fueld, a local production company.
Alex was interviewed at the University of Denver's Gates Hall by John Temple of the Rocky Mountain News. There were several hundred people there from students to ad veterans.
Here are some highlights from my notes, simply passed on without commentary:
Spirit of Showmanship
Alex loves P. T. Barnum because he was a shomwan who drew audiences in novel ways without the use of advertising. He always surprised people. In Miami he sent a CP+B team to see a spiritual medium to channel the spirit of Barnum to try to understand his ways. The team came back and reported that the medium (Barnum) kept mentioning his prized pygmy elephant. Over and over the elephant came up.
Later, they heard that some museum was selling the pygmy elephant (stuffed, I presume) and they just had to buy it. It now stands in the lobby of their Boulder office. The penis broke off at some point and it's being kept in a drawer in Bogusky's office credenza.
Lots of stuff catches fire in popular culture without the help of advertising. He is motivated by the thrill of culture jamming, watching one of his clients brands become integrated into pop culture.
Cheating the Good Way
When faced with a challenge they find interesting ways to 'cheat'. Very little cash? Try DRTV where apparently you need to end in a direct response call to action to get the inexpensive airtime. The Mini Counterfeit DVD case study was shared as an example.
Playing With the Consumer
He considers their work to be a form of play and they want the consumer to play back. An example was when young guys were stealing the SpongeBob inflatables from the roofs of Burger Kings. Rather than press charges CP+B convinced BK to playfully offer a ransom for the SpongeBobs. To that end he said the question is not What's your brand story? but rather What is your brand game?
Success = Sales
He said that the ultimate measure of their success is whether they move the brand sales needle. He will urge a client to trust them and their ideas and stake the relationship on the work. He said they will present the strategic thinking, the stuff that backs it up, and a few ideas that will bring it home. If it doesn’t work he says, ‘fire us.’
His view on the Miller Lite work was that the campaign was starting to show success but that it is often necessary to change creative direction to keep consumers engaged and interested. He pointed to Truth as an example of evolving ideas. He said some people feel a need to put a bullet in an idea and move on with resentment. But the Budweiser frogs, for example, simply evolved to something new. They didn’t have to dramatically kill them and reject the idea. On Miller he seemed to feel the clients soured on the work and felt they needed to make a dramatic political statement of change not just of the ideas but the agency.
Remove Obstacles for Creative People
His idea of the office policies and environment are to remove obstacles that stand between people and their best ideas.
Sanctuary for Burger Lovers
The positioning for BK came as a reaction to the proliferation of salads, foccacia sandwiches, baguettes and the like, from McDonald’s, etc. BK sought to be the haven, the sanctuary for burger lovers. A place where people could stop feeling guilty for wanting a nice big-ass meat sandwich.
All or Nothing
On effectiveness, he feels that an idea has to come to market in its purest form or it won’t move people. “Unless you do it100 percent it won’t work.”
Focus Groups: Wind Tunnels of Marketing
He compared research (I would argue that he’s talking about badly run research) to the role wind tunnels used to play in automotive development. They take the edges off everything and eventually all you end up with is and egg-like car from every manufacturer. The only good focus group is the one that proves his idea is the right idea.
The Job of Pop Culture if Change
He talked about the launch of Mini and a board that announced ‘The SUV Backlash Begins Now’. He was quite nervous at this launch because all the numbers showed SUVs on a robust growth curve. He said you have to take a risk and participate in culture to change it. Weeks later an article was written that cited the board as one of the reasons the tide was turning on SUVs.
His people live, breathe and eat the products they work on.
Bogusky is a Dem and his two partners are Republicans. He is really passionate about changing the direction of this country and was asked whether he would ever put his talents toward a campaign. He said he and his partners agreed that CP+B would never go into the political comms biz. Nonetheless, he told a story of how he actually met with Senator Edwards’ staff in NY. He came back and talked with his wife about starting a small independent group to do a project for Edwards. She convinced him he was stretched too thin and she would never see him if he did. He had his assistant call Edwards’ office to decline. Days later the Senator called him directly to try to convince him but Bogusky, still feeling guilty, never retuned his calls. He knew if he talked to him he would be mortified to say his wife wouldn’t let him do it.