Alex Bogusky: Doing Good Or Being A Turncoat

alex bogusky the unhappy truth about sodaThe ad world is all a-twitter about Alex Bogusky’s latest career path, which seems to be hyper-focused on activism.

Working for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, Bogusky partnered with singer Jazon Mraz and produced an animated video, The Unhappy Truth About Soda, extolling the dangers of sugar, specifically as they relate to the massive amounts of sugary drinks consumed daily in our society.

The uproar is focused on the fact that for many years Bogusky (like many in the ad biz) has been the brilliance behind campaigns for the likes of clients like Burger King, Coca-Cola and the like. He’s worked to create campaigns and ads that quite likely compelled consumers to eat and drink crap. And there’s much of talk of hypocrisy and biting the veritable hands that fed Bogusky well for many years.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Me? I watched the video and wanted to applaud. I don’t drink soda, I don’t let my kids drink soda and applaud any effort that undertakes to educate the public about the dangers associated with swilling the junk.

Here it is, you can watch it yourself:

This reminds me of a conversation I recently had with one of my six-year-olds as we drove through San Francisco. She watched someone standing at a bus stop inhale, then exhale smoke, and shook her head. Then she said “Mommy, why would anybody ever smoke?” Try explaining to a six-year-old that there was once a day when doctors told people to smoke. And claimed that it was good for you. And that everybody smoked. Because it was just what you did. And that people didn’t know any better. And now, many of them are dead as a result. Try explaining to a six-year-old why you smoked. Seriously not fun.

Smoking stinks. Literally and figuratively. And we, as a society, now know that it can kill us. Because of education. Because of activism. Because of whistleblowers and lawsuits and commercials on TV that scare the crap out of us.

And you know what? To my way of thinking, soda and sugary drinks are no better than cigarettes. They are NOT good for you. And we have an obese adult population who doesn’t yet seem to realize that, raising kids who can’t possibly be expected to know better. And like cigarettes, the problems sugary drinks cause are often life-threatening. Says the daughter of a diabetic and the wife of an overweight man.

I’m not necessarily a fan of laws like the one recently enacted in New York City banning sugary drinks in some establishments and setting size limitations in others – legislating this kind of thing makes me nervous. But I am a huge fan of campaigns that seek to educate consumers about the dangers associated with sugary drinks.

And who cares if Bogusky changed his mind? I have many friends who went down the agency path and subsequently worked on all kinds of accounts that caused them to ask themselves moral and ethical questions. And sometimes, some of those people opted out of working on accounts that they felt compromised their personal beliefs. And others considered it all part of the job. Who am I to judge what’s right for anyone else? And likewise, who is anyone in Ad Land to judge what’s right for Bogusky in this chapter of his life?

What do you think? Is it reprehensible that someone (Alex Bogusky or anyone else) one day applies his or her talents to the success of something and later opts to apply those same talents to educate people of the dangers associated therewith? I think it’s safe to say that you can count me in the group of people applauding Bogusky for his stance here. Who knows, it might even save some lives along the way.

By the way, if you watch The Real Bears video, do someone you love who drinks soda a favor—share it. I’m guessing that the 6,690 views it’s garnered so far will soon skyrocket into the millions. Or at least I’m hoping it does.

And if you’re interested in voting in AdAge’s poll on whether Bogusky is good or evil, you can vote here, results to be published next week.

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  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    My brother has been off soda for Years. And it’s the first thing he had me give up when I started his amazing weight loss plan for me. When I was growing up, soda was a treat we drank every now and again.

    Every few weeks I’ll still drink a Coke zero, or have a cocktail that might have something sweet in it, but I’ve never really had a sweet tooth to start out with — which is part of why getting back in shape is turning out to be much easier than expected on the dietary side. I definitely think there is an awareness issue about sugar, particularly where high fructose corn syrup is concerned. Because it’s not that these things are necessarily toxic in and of themselves, but that they are IN so many things they don’t need to be in, making their presence zoom to toxic levels in our diets.

    So what if he changes his mind? He’s to be applauded. And maybe he didn’t know then what he knows now.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Is anyone under the illusion that while doing the ‘agency thing’ we’re not all hired guns at some level or another?

    Without even delving into the dynamics of the “I want off the account” conversation – people change their minds all the time. If their work reflects that – fantastic. Further – many things are in the ‘ok in moderation’ camp – sweets (fats, fast foods, etc) of any sort usually fall into that category. Promoting them and warning against the consumption of too much isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game.

    It’s ok in my book. Different opinions of course for representing tyrants, and all those ‘totally evil’ things though :)

  • http://twitter.com/lizscherer Liz Scherer

    People who evolve are those who mature, in mind, spirit and soul. I applaud that Bogusky realized his true passion and committed to it. it means that he grew up. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. If he didn’t follow his path, he would have betrayed the one person who matters most; himself. Bravo!

  • Stacey Hood

    People change their minds all the time. People change their views. It happens to just everyone at some time or another. I don’t agree that he’s a turncoat at all. He’s changed his mind, he’s educated himself on the situation and decided to do something for the good of others. Bogusky has never been one to rest on laurels and I think this is just another part of his life and career. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t he leave the marketing/advertising world behind a few years ago? His critics need to move on and understand that he is not the same person he was back then. I say, “Keep up the great work!”

  • http://www.wtflungcancer.com/ Jennifer Windrum

    I say “Bravo” to Bogusky. Having worked in the agency world and now into activism myself, I can say you learn A TON from your clients and the accounts you work on. Sometimes what you learn hits a personal spot. Perhaps this is what happened to Bogusky. Why fault anyone who tries to create change for the better? Whether people agree with him or not, sugary drinks are a problem and a contributor to a larger problem, no pun intended. What Bogusky is doing is noble, in my opinion. Agency life and the accounts assigned to you are not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. Heck, I did PR for a flea and tick control product and I am deathly afraid of ticks!! My only complaint? The video is too long. Something Bogusky should know from his ad days.

  • Livepath

    Does anyone even consider that he may actually be laughing all the way to the bank? Guilt complex or not — Bogusky has made millions marketing junk food for decades and for being the “out of the box” bad boy of marketing. He also introduced many borderline explicit ads targeted to teens (Girls like Coq campaign for Burger King – remember that?) without regard for or respect for parents. Though he may be a great storyteller, gifted ad man — over the years I have developed a lack of respect for him for a number of reasons. The truth is, he became wildly successful by peddling specifically this type of garbage … So, does getting paid to be a good guy indicate some kind of personal redemption? I don’t know. What if it just means he’s making his money somewhere else now? What if the redemption story just helps sell it better? The phrase, “By their fruits ye shall know them” comes to mind…. While the ad is a positive contribution to society –> in my mind, one glistening apple on a tree of tainted, ugly fruit doesn’t change my opinion of him. Call me a stick in the mud but there it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidsvet David Svet

    It strikes me that the people crying foul are simply feeling guilty. They’re still hurting people or, at the very least, have tacitly stated that they would. If Alex Bogusky wants to do something else, that’s his business. There’s certainly nothing wrong with deciding to stop hurting and start helping. Both repentance and the structure of our penal system are a pretty clear indication that it’s widely considered a good thing.

  • http://twitter.com/JenKaneCo Jennifer Kane

    I don’t think redemption pays as well as sin.

  • Livepath

    nicely said jennifer and a good point. something tells me he’s not hurting for cash, either

  • http://www.facebook.com/LisaGThorell Lisa Thorell

    I agree. No acknowledgement that his ads had something to do with the sugar binge-ing of the past? Disingenuous.

  • ShellyKramer

    I pretty much agree, Tinu. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of things over the years.

  • ShellyKramer

    I change my mind. Frequently. I am woman. In all seriousness, I think it’s an okay move and am not sure why people are so up in arms about it. Thanks for coming by Nathan.

  • ShellyKramer

    He did leave it all behind a few years ago. And has resurfaced working on more cause related things like this. I saw that’s not a bad career move.

  • ShellyKramer

    I answered all these comments, including yours, Jen, and it’s sooooo annoying that my replies disappeared. Sigh. In any event, I agree. And I’ve also learned a lot from situations, experiences, people, etc., over the years. I actually didn’t think the video was too long – but I expected it to be more of a short film than a video, so I suppose it met my expectations. It was hard to not feel moved by it, that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, m’dear. Always appreciated.

  • ShellyKramer

    I think that’s irrelevant. People change. Times change. Attitudes change. I’m not sure why we always need to extract a pound of flesh. But then, that’s just me. And I always appreciate hearing what you’re thinking, Lisa.

  • ShellyKramer

    Well said, David. And I agree. I’m not really sure what all the uproar is about.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m with you, Liz. But as with everything, haters are going to hate. I’d like to think it’s an example of someone using their powers for good, not evil. Thanks for coming by. As always. Now, where’s the wine?

  • ShellyKramer

    Alex may well be an ass, Leigh – I certainly don’t know. But what I do know is that, in spite of any missteps that I’ve made in the past (and we all make them, don’t we?), I’m infinitely more passionate as I grow older and more experienced at supporting things I believe in and not supporting the things I don’t. Maybe that’s the case. I don’t know. But no matter the motivation, conscience or money, I’d rather have someone as brilliant as Bogusky apply his creative talents toward something like this any day. If his work in this realm can effect change, what’s the downside. And if he makes money doing it, fine by me.

  • ShellyKramer

    Have I mentioned lately that I adore you? If not, I’ve been sorely remiss.

  • Livepath

    Who is extracting a pound of flesh? Not me. Just asking questions you asked… and I think in a fair minded way.

  • Livepath

    I think we’re in agreement there. I pointed out no down side. :)

  • ShellyKramer

    Agreed.

  • ShellyKramer

    I kind of feel the same way. Interesting how many are up in arms about this. Thanks for the thoughts, Stacey.

  • ShellyKramer

    Good thoughts, Jennifer. I didn’t think the film was too long (but I went into it expecting a short film, not a short video). I agree – and am glad to see someone taking up this charge.

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL. I adore you.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m with you, Liz. But as with everything, haters are going to hate. I’d like to think it’s an example of someone using their powers for good, not evil. Thanks for coming by. As always. Now, where’s the wine?

  • http://twitter.com/jpippert Julie Pippert

    Sometimes getting inside something and working in depth are the very things that lead you to greater understanding of it, figuring out how harmless or harmful it is. To be able to process that and grow from it, have the courage to stand up — even at risk like this — and do what you believe is right is admirable to me.

    He did his work, well, and now he’s doing what he believes is right, well. I won’t judge it good or bad either way, but I do admire this effort.

    Some things are so hard to avoid. Soda is an easy one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.konopinski Jason Konopinski

    I’ve been trying to put my finger on why people are so up in arms about Bogusky’s move. Dude is a masterful presenter. Just unreal. I applaud anyone who realizes when they’ve been doing things wrong, refocusing and setting off on a new path. Perspectives change. Attitudes and opinions are in constant flux. If someone thinks I’m the same person now that I was even six months ago, I’ve failed.

  • Kyle Rohde

    I have no problem with Bogusky changing his mind – we all evolve as human beings and change our opinions on things far more important than sugary drinks. However, it’s quite easy to play the activist, holier-than-thou card when you cashed in for millions of dollars and are set for life. If Bogusky was a laid-off creative director looking to restart his career, I doubt he’d be volunteering to help non-profits with health campaigns. He’d be at every QSR/beverage agency in the country, telling them how great a job he did selling fast food and sugary drinks to millions of us. So I view his work with skepticism.

    As to the bigger issue of sugary drinks, like most things, it’s all about moderation. Have three drinks per day and you’re an alcoholic. Have three per week and you’re normal and healthy. Drink soda every day and it’s going to contribute to your weight gain. Drink it maybe 1x per week like I do, and always with pizza because it’s the perfect combo, and you’re fine.

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