Bogusky Fires Back

Looks like Jim Edwards got Alex Bogusky’s attention with his BNET piece last week that placed the blame for BK’s departure from Crispin Porter & Bogusky squarely on Bogusky’s shoulders.

Words like this will do that to a man: “Bogusky was once hailed as a creative genius who grew a small Miami ad shop into a global presence, he now looks like a destructive egomaniac who trashed his clients and walked out on his colleagues as soon as it made him colossally rich.”

I don’t know what led Edwards to make a personal attack like that, but he obviously feels strongly about the topic, or he would not have put those words under his byline.

Here’s Bogusky’s retort:

We resigned several accounts over the years but none bigger than Miller Brewing. And what a shit storm that was. The client was beyond angry, ballistic, and although we sent out a release explaining our decision they decided to claim they had fired us. Whatever. People are free to say whatever they need to, to keep their Board of Directors happy, I suppose. But what was frustrating and somewhat telling was the fact that the advertising trade press reported it that way, even though they knew the truth because they had been made privy to the decision prior to the announcement.

My sense is that this comes from a couple of places. First, the advertising press doesn’t know shit about the advertising business in that none of them has ever been in a senior job at a decent agency. Because of this, they are sure that all billing is created equal and they are confused by the idea that it is not. Second, there is a certain self-loathing that exists in this industry that is hard to quite understand. But it prevents the agencies from actually rallying around one another in the face of the mistruths reported to capture attention. In my career, I’ve seen the advertising trade press take the same ride toward sensationalism that most of the mainstream press has taken. It’s a shame.

Sensationalism? I don’t think so. The ad business does look good on AMC, but in real life it’s a grind, an egofest, a hyper-competitive little club. In other words, there’s nothing sensational about it. Sure, Edwards’ barbs smart if you happen to be the target, but saying the advertising press doesn’t “know shit about the advertising business” is woefully short of the truth. Does a foreign corespondent need to first work in the Russian government, to bring context to a story about Russia? No. Did Randall Rothenberg need to work “in a senior job at a decent agency” to write Where the Suckers Moon, one of the best books on the inner workings of an agency ever written? No.

I respect Bogusky’s work and if we ever meet, I expect to like the man too. But he’s missing the boat on this. There are times to respond to negative press and times to keep your head down.

Previously on AdPulp: Looking To Find A Cause For The BK Split, Jim Edwards Flamebroils Alex Bogusky

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditStumbleUponEmailDiggShare
About David Burn

Native Nebraskan seeking the perfect pale ale in the Pacific Northwest. Copywriter and brand strategist at Bonehook. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. Contributor to The Content Strategist. Doer of the things written about herein.

  • Ronald McDonald

    Haven’t had time to respond to earlier posts, but now’s as good a time as any.

    First, Edwards did go a little overboard with his take on things. He tends to cross the line of traditional journalism, which is certainly his right. But it seems like his opinions are based too much on speculation at times. I agree with Bogusky. The overwhelming majority of ad journalists are clueless about what really happens in agencies. Just as our friends and family still don’t understand what we do for a living, so too the trade press. There are few competent ad journalists out there. I’d name the 3-5 that I think are decent, but it would likely piss off the rest.

    Burger King is an account with problems that go beyond anything advertising can solve. That said, CP+B gave BK the best ads they’ve had in years. In a previous post, David, you said the next agency can’t win. I disagree – but only if the next agency is W+K, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, or maybe TBWAChiatDay, Fallon or BBDO. It’s tough to say if these shops could handle the retail needs of such a client, but they are certainly capable of matching CP+B on a branding big idea level.

    But back to Bogusky, it’s asinine to blame him for the BK divorce – at least in the way Edwards did. The client has undergone a complete senior-management overhaul. Few agencies survive such moves. Hell, most would just as soon resign. I thought it was stupid for Bogusky to write his diet book. But not because he was servicing BK at the time; rather, because it was a lame diet book. If writing the book was going to piss off a client, why didn’t Domino’s or Kraft check out too? Believe me, Burger King knows a little diet book that no one is ever going to read won’t affect their sales.

    It’s also silly for Edwards to make it appear that Bogusky abandoned MDC/CP+B. Um, the man made the company millions – if not billions or trillions. Nothing lasts forever. He earned every penny they paid him. No corporation overpays their superstars. Hell, MDC gave him a more global role and title in order to let his magic dust appear to spread onto MDC shops that probably benefited from the connection. I wouldn’t be surprised if his elevation actually accelerated his desire to move onto new adventures. The networks are corporations focused on making money versus creating ideas. Bogusky has always been focused on the latter.

    Why is Bogusky wrong to respond to Edwards? If someone writes an opinion that almost looks like it was intended to be journalism, the subject certainly has the right to reply. It would be one thing if it were, say, Agency Spy, where the writers are essentially retarded hacks. But Edwards is an ex-Adweek editor – and BNET purports to be a legitimate journalism vehicle. It’s not Forbes or WSJ. Hell, it’s not even Adweek. But it’s still more than a blog. Bogusky’s response seemed totally appropriate.

    But as always, it’s all just my opinion.

    • http://adpulp.com David Burn

      It’s funny that you say BNET is “more than a blog.” Funny because ad blogs written by ad grunts, or non-grunts for that matter, may in fact be a lot more reliable than the mainstream press on this story and many others.

      Look at your own comment. It’s informed, compassionate and rational. And it’s on a blog.

      • Ronald McDonald

        Yes, I agree. Although ad blogs are like ad agencies; that is, there are great ones setting new standards and there are hacks. I certainly would not put AdPulp in the same category/trash receptacle with Agency Spy. I was actually semi-reacting to the fact that BNET literally has the CBS logo on its landing page, which makes it look like they are a big-time journalism source.

        Edwards’ comments here are sorta interesting too, as if he’s backpedaling (and AdPulp did not overstate what Edwards wrote). As you pointed out, he went after Bogusky in a weird, personal way. Even his headline, with “Earth’s Trendiest Adman,” seemed unnecessarily snarky. The piece simply feels like: 1) Edwards’ main source was a disgruntled CP+B employee about to lose his job with the loss of BK or; 2) Edwards mirrors the beat sports reporter who’s angry because his newspaper’s paying him a five-figure salary while the star athletes he covers are raking in millions.

        Sorry, it’s just not Edwards’ best piece. But hey, we all publish an occasional stinker, right?

      • Ronald McDonald

        Yes, I agree. Although ad blogs are like ad agencies; that is, there are great ones setting new standards and there are hacks. I certainly would not put AdPulp in the same category/trash receptacle with Agency Spy. I was actually semi-reacting to the fact that BNET literally has the CBS logo on its landing page, which makes it look like they are a big-time journalism source.

        Edwards’ comments here are sorta interesting too, as if he’s backpedaling (and AdPulp did not overstate what Edwards wrote). As you pointed out, he went after Bogusky in a weird, personal way. Even his headline, with “Earth’s Trendiest Adman,” seemed unnecessarily snarky. The piece simply feels like: 1) Edwards’ main source was a disgruntled CP+B employee about to lose his job with the loss of BK or; 2) Edwards mirrors the beat sports reporter who’s angry because his newspaper’s paying him a five-figure salary while the star athletes he covers are raking in millions.

        Sorry, it’s just not Edwards’ best piece. But hey, we all publish an occasional stinker, right?

  • Jim Edwards

    Hi, I’d like to clarify a couple of things. 1. I didn’t blame Alex as the soul cause of the BK loss, but as a preventable contributing factor. AdPulp’s posts on this issue overstate what I actually wrote. 2. Alex’s post doesn’t deny anything I wrote. 3. Alex qualifies his post with words that indicate he doesn’t know exactly what went down (“my sense …”, “if,” and “my guess.”) Lastly, Alex says reporters often buy the line that clients fire agencies when that isn’t true. What is to stop agencies from telling the truth when they drop clients? If agencies don’t say it, you can’t blame reporters for not quoting them saying it.

    • Anonymous

      soul = sole, obvs.

  • Steve

    Funny how Bogusky never seemed to complain about how “the advertising press doesn’t know shit about the advertising business” for all those years when reporters routinely kissed his ass and published fawning puff pieces. Were they just as ignorant and ill-informed then as he claims they are now?

    • Ronald McDonald

      That’s a good point, Steve. But those fluff pieces weren’t making erroneous speculations. They were just glorified press releases. Think about it. Can you ever recall a time when you saw a member of the press actually spending time in an agency (this is provided you work in an agency)? It’s all phones calls, emails and an occasional lunch. And rarely even that.

      • Steve

        You may be right, Ronald. Certainly Adweek, Ad Age, Creativity, et al were — and still are — guilty of practicing journalism by press release. But that didn’t seem to bother Bogusky in the least when they were writing fawning profiles about how the sun shone out of his ass. It’s only now that he’s getting a bit of heat that he suddenly lashes out about how ignorant and evil the advertising press is. But then, what can one expect from a man who wrote a book decrying America’s obesity epidemic while making millions pimping Burger King and Domino’s? (Of course, that’s a subject for another debate entirely.)

        While I’m not entirely convinced that Jim Edwards’ article is rife with “erroneous speculations” — there seem to be plenty of solid, indisputable facts larded in there — I admit to be a bit confused as to just what he’s condemning Bogusky for. On the one hand, he seems to be lambasting Bogusky for abandoning the agency he helped to grow. Yet within the space of a few sentences he details Bogusky’s actions — the diet book, his diatribe about the evils of marketing to children — that antagonized and angered BK management. So which is it? Did Crispin lose the account because of Bogusky — or because he was no longer there?

        • Ronald McDonald

          Well, Bogusky is claiming CP+B resigned BK, not the other way around. If that’s true, then nearly everything Edwards published was erroneous.

          • Steve

            I agree, Ronald, that if Crispin resigned the account, then Edwards’ theory is incorrect. And I wouldn’t blame Bogusky for being angry — although it doesn’t make his stance regarding the advertising press any less hysterical and hypocritical. His fear and loathing of the media that once glorified and deified him seem to have reached Nixonian levels of paranoia.

            But whether Edwards is right or wrong about who fired who (or is it whom?), the fact is that Bogusky’s actions seem to have antagonized the client. It’s also a matter of record that Burger King’s sales have declined for six straight quarters. (A decline which has as much if not more so to do with BK’s ongoing quality issues than with the advertising.) So even if Edwards’ conclusions were erroneous, most of his facts are not.

            I don’t know whether to believe Edwards or Bogusky. While I’m not sure what Edwards has to gain by publishing a pack of untruths, it’s certainly in Bogusky’s interest to put the best possible spin on the split. I suspect that, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

            It’s clear that the relationship between Crispin and BK has been headed for a break-up for some time. The only thing that seems to be in dispute is whether Crispin jumped before they were pushed.

            Regardless, I’m sorry to see Crispin and BK part ways. Their partnership produced some kick-ass work.

          • Ronald McDonald

            I see no evidence where Bogusky’s actions antagonized the client. In fact, given that the client underwent an almost complete overhaul in recent times, why would they be antagonized at all? The new people had no idea who Bogusky was/is.

            I also don’t see where Bogusky has been hysterical or shown Nixonian levels of paranoia. Reread his comment. It’s pretty thoughtful, calm and deliberate.

            Burger King’s sales declines, as even you admit, were likely not even tied to advertising. Consider the fact that Subway recently surpassed McDonald’s in terms of number of restaurants. Surely factors like this have also adversely affected Burger King. There’s an old adage that says great advertising will accelerate a bad product’s downfall. Perhaps the CP+B work demonstrates this. Burger King has always suffered from a point that consistently revealed itself in focus groups. That is, everyone agrees Burger King’s food tastes better than McDonald’s food. However, it’s not so much better that people are willing to travel the extra distance to purchase BK over McD. In other words, BK’s strengths are not strong enough to compel consumers to prefer and buy it.

            To be clear, I’m not harping on whether or not Edwards’ piece is true. Rather, I think its tone was unnecessarily snarky, and its perspectives were grossly flawed. Even Edwards seems to be backpedaling, repositioning Bogusky’s actions as a “preventable contributing factor.” IMHO, that’s significantly different than a headline that reads, “How Earth’s Trendiest Adman Helped Get His Agency Fired By Burger King” – as well as copy that used phrases like “destructive egomaniac.” You admit that CP+B produced kick-ass work for Burger King. Now you want to vilify the man behind most of it? Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

          • Steven

            Ronald, you’re clearly an intelligent, thoughtful chap who makes many good points and I’ve enjoyed jousting with you, but I fear this discussion is starting to chase its own tail. (Plus I’ve got some work to do.) So this will be my final post on the matter. I will leave the last word to you.

            Just to clarify a couple of points:

            1. You said, “I see no evidence where Bogusky’s actions antagonized the client.” From what I recall — which, granted, may be incorrect — Bogusky left Crispin shortly after he posted his missive decrying the evils of marketing to children (something I happen to agree with, by the way). In that post, he said he had gotten angry at Burger King for airing a commercial Crispin originally created for an adult audience during programs aimed at kids. He called BK and got them to stop. I’m not sure why Bogusky felt the need to air this particular piece of dirty laundry in public — after all, by his own admission, the client agreed to pull the commercial as soon as he asked them — unless it was to make himself look good at the client’s expense. While the real reasons why Bogusky left Crispin may never be fully known, it was reported that BK was none too happy with his diatribe. There were also reports that, despite their demurrals when Bogusky’s diet book was first published, they were actually less than thrilled but decided to keep their peace.

            2. You then said, “The new people had no idea who Bogusky was/is.” Come on, that’s pretty hard to believe. He’s been gone from the agency for less than a year. And since he’s loomed so large in BK’s marketing efforts over the past seven years, any executive — new or otherwise — who didn’t have even the slightest clue as to who Bogusky was has to be epically ill-informed.

            3. You also said, “I also don’t see where Bogusky has been hysterical or shown Nixonian levels of paranoia. Reread his comment. It’s pretty thoughtful, calm and deliberate.” Granted, “Nixonian levels of paranoia” may be an overstatement on my part. But I did reread his comments and urge you to do the same. Saying that “the advertising press doesn’t know shit about the advertising business in that none of them has ever been in a senior job at a decent agency” and accusing them of “sensationalism” certainly comes off as shrill and overly defensive. There may be legitimate criticisms of the advertising press but in Bogusky’s case it mainly seems to be that they, to paraphrase a classic political cartoon by Paul Szep, cannot reconcile themselves with his infallibity. After years of kissing his ass, they dared to criticize him and he doesn’t like it.

            4. You said, “Burger King’s sales declines, as even you admit, were likely not even tied to advertising.” Reread what I wrote. I said that the decline “has as much if not more so to do with BK’s ongoing quality issues than with the advertising.” That’s hardly the same thing. My point is that BK’s advertising may have been a factor in their declining sales — brilliant as some of their work was, it was polarizing and the strategy of focusing on males 18-25 to the exclusion of virtually every other segment of the audience may have backfired — it was hardly the only one.

            5. Finally — and most puzzlingly — you end by saying “You admit that CP+B produced kick-ass work for Burger King. Now you want to vilify the man behind most of it?” I don’t get that at all. Yes, I did call Bogusky out for his attacks on the press that he once so assiduously courted. But nowhere — NOWHERE — did I question his creative abilities or his success. While I don’t worship at the altar of Bogusky as some do, I certainly recognize his undeniable talent and the influence he has had on this business. He helped build one of the most important and influential agencies of the past decade and acknowledgement must be paid. But just because he’s brilliant doesn’t mean he’s infallible. Talent can come in some pretty prickly packages. Witness Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, Charlie Sheen. . . (Wait, did I just compare Charlie Sheen to Picasso?)

            Anyway, I’ve wasted far too much of my time and yours beating this particular horse to death. Enjoyed the discussion, Ronald — and fire away.

            Thanks.

          • Ronald McDonald

            Well, I agree this thread has gone on too long. But just to complete the circle:

            1. The incident you referenced here was barely touched upon by Edwards. In fact, you almost have to click links all the way back to Bogusky’s original post to see what allegedly transpired. I have no time to do that.

            2. When new clients have no relationship with the agency people, it doesn’t matter if you’re Alex Bogusky or Alex Trebeck. They don’t know you. We’ve actually seen instances of the opposite occur, when a client hands business to an agency without a review because of past relationships (e.g., GM’s Joel Ewanick giving Goodby the Chevy account). My general point here was that the new clients at BK had zero relationship with Bogusky. They didn’t know him.

            3. I wonder if you actually read the trades, particularly Ad Age and Adweek. Bogusky is right that these sources are pushing for sensationalism. Adweek recently posted an online survey listing a number of executives who landed ECD/CCO roles at major Madison Avenue shops, asking readers to guess who would be the first to fail. Plus, it’s no coincidence that Adweek’s website has direct links to AdFreak. What’s left of that publication is constantly blurring the lines between reporting and snarky bullshit. Ad Age is constantly pushing for sensationalism as well. Look at its coverage on the 4A’s 2011 Transformation Conference. Additionally, a recent story about Groupon’s backpedaling over CP+B’s infamous Super Bowl spot ended like this: “If and when Groupon does hire a new creative agency, we having a feeling it’ll stick to the safe choice.” Is that objective journalism? Yes, Bogusky noted “the advertising press doesn’t know shit about the advertising business in that none of them has ever been in a senior job at a decent agency.” Only an idiot would argue that Bogusky is wrong about that. Now, technically, a great journalist need not have worked in the field he/she covers in order to do their job – otherwise, the overwhelming majority of sports journalists would be fired immediately. But you do have to be immersed in the field you’re covering. And that’s where a lot of the ad journalists fall short.

            4. Well, I’ll admit I did not get your point, if you indeed sought to link BK’s targeting of male youth to its downfall. But I’ll stick by my position that CP+B’s work likely accelerated the descent of a bad product.

            5. Reread your comments thread, friend. Your opening salvo seemed to insult Bogusky. In your second comment, review the tone of last two sentences of the first paragraph. Your third comment featured the Nixonian paranoia reference. Sorry, but your worship comes with some peculiar forms of praise.

            Going back to work as well. Cheers.