Alex Bogusky On Rebranding His Competitive Self

My dad’s thing to me with sports is: it’s not enough to win, somebody else has got to lose.

Danielle Sacks

Interview by

Summer, 2010. Boulder, Colorado.
Digital recorder

Read "The Adman Wants a Soul," in Fast Company Magazine.


Illustrations: Paul Swartz



David Gerlach:  This is Blank on Blank, and thank you for joining us as we build this archive of lost American interviews.  I’m David Gerlach.  Today we’re talking about what it means to win. Does it mean working hard and just doing your best? Or is it something else? Is it seeing someone else lose? That’s the question raised by Alex Bogusky. He’s an advertising guru and an unlikely prophet.

Danielle Sacks: Alex Bogusky is pretty much considered sort of the Steve Jobs of advertising.

David Gerlach: That’s Danielle Sacks. She’s a senior writer at Fast Company magazine.

Danielle Sacks: He quickly became known as sort of the bad boy of advertising. Creating ridiculous stunts most famously for brands like Burger King.

[Clip: Burger King commercial]

Danielle Sacks: He did everything from creating Chicken Fries to a cologne that smelled like meat.

David Gerlach: So Danielle interviewed Bogusky for an article she wrote a few years ago. He was 46 and had just left his perch atop the ad world at his firm Crispin, Porter and Bogusky. Danielle went out to his new headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. What he had dubbed “The Fearless Cottage” to find out why he gave it all up to find himself.

Danielle Sacks: I’m at the cottage, and who walks in but of course Alex’s monk. I said “Alex, how’d you get a monk?” And he said, “Actually I hired the monk for Crispin, and now he’s sort of my own monk as well.

David Gerlach: So the stage is set: Danielle sits in during Alex Bogusky’s journey of self-reflection. Greg the Monk by his side, and the topic turns to what his father taught him about winning. This is Blank on Blank.

Alex Bogusky: I was crazy competitive for most of my life. I think I’ve been in this process of becoming less competitive. If I get some, you don’t. And, my dad’s thing to me, with sports is, it’s not enough to win. Somebody else has got to lose. That’s where you get the “Mmf” out of life. That’s part of the joy of winning, the infliction of loss.

[Music:  Hior Chronik - “The Sea”]

Alex Bogusky: But I’ve been shedding the notion of competition. Because it doesn’t make you happy. You can’t win enough to win.

[Music continues]

Alex Bogusky: My friends don’t believe it. They’re like “Oh my God, dude. You’re the most competitive person I know.” They’ll joke with me. But if I need that constant thing, that’s not sustainable. So I’ve been messing around with this less competitive version of myself, somewhat fearful at the beginning of whether there can be excellence without competition.

[Music continues]

Alex Bogusky: So I do a lot of sports and mostly at the time when I started this process I was riding motorcross. You’re racing against your friends and it’s very competitive. I pull away from them by 20 bike lengths, I feel pretty damn good. Ten bike lengths the next time, I feel less good. I mean it’s a crazy ride to be on. Right? I just saw that. That is just a miserable way to think you’re recreating. So I took the idea of other people out of it and I just focused on how excellent I could execute a turn. It was only those things I focused on. When I’d look up, I’d be 20 lengths ahead, and then I’d go, “Oh, that’s awesome!” And I’d have to restart the whole thing. Excellence can be found without competition. I believe. It’s found just thorough that notion of like: “I’m going try to express something really authentic through what I’m doing.”

David Gerlach: That’s adman extraordinaire Alex Bogusky explaining his apparent turn away from being the ultra-competitor. But I did have to ask Danielle if his father’s advice really was no longer driving his life. Had the transformation stuck?

Danielle Sacks: Alex is telling me all these things that are incredibly personal and raw and seemingly candid. But at the end of the day you also have to remember you are a journalist. Is this just his greatest re-branding campaign, yet? He just partnered up with Al Gore and he has this new kind of start-up like incubator for do-gooder start-ups. So he is walking the talk.  But it’s also very interesting and coincidental that this whole transformation all happened to happen right after he got his final multi-million dollar earn out from his ad agency.

[Music continues]

David Gerlach: Thanks to Danielle Sacks for contributing to the archive. Be sure to read her great article on Bogusky at FastCompany.com. This interview was produced by me and Dave McGuire. Thanks to Jeffrey Alan Jones for our sound logo. And to hear more lost interviews, interviews you can’t hear anywhere else, head to BlankonBlank.org. I’m David Gerlach, keep listening.

Music: Hior Chronik “The Sea”
Photo: Fast Company Magazine