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11/08/2010 Bogusky, Gladwell and Revolution

Advertising legend Alex Bogusky has left his ad agency to start a new company of his own, named Fearless Revolution. Its mission is to help support a new consumer revolution because

“To be a concerned citizen requires that we become concerned consumers because the reality is, corporations will impact our future as much as governments will. Voting beyond the ballot box with our purchasing power is rapidly becoming a powerful individual tool in the democratic experience.”

The first thing Alex wants help with is to crowdsource a writing of a new consumer bill of rights. The old one had things like the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to service. Fearless Revolution wants to update this for the digital age.

I am all for more power to the consumer. Right now, individual Americans are at such a disadvantage compared with corporations, interest groups, and super-rich people. This is the U.S. where money is king. Those with it get to decide. Movements like Fearless Revolution look to turn that dynamic on its head by weighting collective numbers and influence against greater economic wealth.

But is that what Alex and Fearless are really doing? Are they really providing a forum or impetus for consumers to join and act collectively in opposition, it seems, to business and corporations? Is Alex looking to head a new Social Consumers’ Union?

While all this sounds great, I don’t think that’s what Alex Bogusky is doing at all. Actually, if you look at the business model behind the new company, it seems to be this:

“We help big companies and titans of industry uncover the consumer advocate hiding inside the layers of corporate BS.”

Whoa! What happened to the revolution? Is Fearless trying to crowdsource consumer advocacy to sell to its corporate clients in the same way that Alex’ former partner John Winsor is doing with the advertising business at his new shop Victor & Spoils? If so, it seem like Mr. Winsor is the more honest of the two, since he’s not promising that any of his collaborators will be Creative Director at the next big agency.

All the talk about revolutions made me think of the article Malcolm Gladwell penned in the New Yorker on social media and revolution. Gladwell argues that real revolution is hierarchical, strong tie, high-risk activism. 

Yet what Fearless Revolution describes seems to be weak-tie, horizontal, low-risk activism. It's the kind of activity Gladwell paints as good at gaining participants but not very effective at actually changing anything. 

And the question hanging over all of this is: what is Alex Bogusky really willing to risk here? He says he wants to be another Ralph Nader, but Ralph Nader always risked everything he had. His passion and risk taking are what made him successful.

Alex, what are you willing to risk? Clearly you should have enough money to tide you over for a while. Are you willing to risk your business connections and past clients for this new cause? Are you willing to take on Burger Kings unhealthy offerings as a consumer’s right to a healthy food?

Right now it looks like Fearless Revolution is a great marketing execution aimed at gaining corporate clients for the business. And if that’s the case, it’s the worst example of marketing possible.

Alex, you are THE guy to do this. But you can’t do this in the same way you worked at CPB. Are you ready to let go and really lead change?

To paraphrase John Lennon:
You say you want a revolution, well, you know, you better free your mind instead.



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