Rock star adman Alex Bogusky abruptly retired from advertising this summer, saying he wanted to pursue other, more righteous initiatives. Has Burger King's greatest pitchman really had a change of heart? Or is his narcissistic personality disorder acting up again?
Danielle Sacks has a great profile in Fast Company of Bogusky's post-advertising life, and she deftly addresses the essential paradox of the man: on one hand, he has a genius's insight into human nature; on the other hand, he's fucking unbearable. After spending an entire career growing fabulously wealthy and by shilling fast food and notebook computers in the most media whore-y way possible, Bogusky now says with a straight face, "I wasn't attached to the idea that I was an ad-creative-director rock star. I don't believe any of that stuff. It isn't my legacy. I guess I just don't aspire to corporate legacy."
Fucking unbearable, right? On the other hand, far be it from us to declare that a man cannot undergo a spiritual transformation. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance really just became too much for him? We should not criticize the man for doing just what his critics would have called for—namely, realizing that he could be the righteous spiritual do-gooder or the ad man, but not both. Bogusky is moved to tears when discussing his reasons for leaving the ad biz: blah blah do good things so his kids can be proud of him, blah blah. The usual. "You compromise your voice slowly over time,and then you have a moment where you're like, Wow, that really isn't what I think...I heard my mouth disconnected from my soul."
Okay, fair enough. Good. Yes, that is actually good! He has experienced a moment of moral clarity, and done the right thing. Now he is off in Boulder doing all his do-gooder things, and talking the talk, which is all well and good. But of course, an entire career is not erased overnight. And Bogusky seems quite uninterested in addressing the many, many people who know him mainly as a prick. Such as many of his former employees at Crispin Porter Bogusky:
"My beef with Alex is if you start disagreeing with him on something, he finds ways to humiliate you in front of people," says one former copywriter. He believes that Bogusky once canned the agency's best writer just to signal that "if he got fired, everyone else was expendable." When this copywriter tendered his own resignation, he claims Bogusky insulted him by saying he wasn't that talented, anyway — a complaint I heard from several people who had resigned.
Bogusky's heartfelt response:
"Do I feel bad about how I've treated some of my employees in the past?" he responds, taking an uncharacteristically long pause. "I want to say yes, but I'm not feeling that."
Sacks finds a psychiatrist who hints that Bogusky fits the profile of a "Pathological narcissist" and/ or sociopath. Or maybe he's just an asshole. Do plenty of good things anyhow, Alex. Don't let the rest of the world get in your way.