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It looks as if we are on a sure way to self-destruction. All the signs are pointing to it: climate change, environmental issues, world hunger, water pollution, air pollution, insufficient drinking water for billions of people … The list goes on and seems to grow longer every day.
At times even the most optimistic despair in light of all this. The major driving force of all these problems seems to be an almost ideological way of consumption, some already call ‚consumerism’.
We consume without thinking. We consume without a conscience.
Everybody is part of this, everybody consumes: food, clothing, devices and machines, energy … We use up a lot but don’t think much about it. We do not give a thought about what we consume, how we consume, if we do damage to ourselves, others, or the environment.
Are we really that unscrupulous or have we just become complacent, thinking we cannot change anything?
Alex Bogusky believes in the influence of the buyer, he sees revolutionary power with us, the shoppers. According to him, it is time to expect more from companies and brands.
I spoke with Alex Bogusky about his projects, about the Fearless and the Common Consumer Revolution.
T. Are you afraid of anything?
A. B. Sure. I‘m afraid of all sorts of things. Like being buried alive or eaten by a shark. Being ingested is potentially a nice way to give your body back but i‘d rather it happens after i‘m dead. So I‘m afraid of stuff like big meetings too, but I‘m more afraid of wasting this life so I‘ve tried to learn how to identify my fears and move past them if they seem like they might get in the way.
T. How did FearLess come about?
A. B. I‘m not sure. It was a collaboration with my wife Ana and my partner Rob Schuham to look into the idea of a new kind of relationship between people/consumers and the companies they buy from. It started with a conversation largely and we are trying to move it into action.
T. How much support have You encountered since starting FearLess?
A. B. Lots and lots of support. It‘s been amazing the number of people that have wanted to get involved and help out. humbling. But in a way also very frustrating because we don‘t currently have a good way to get people involved at FearLess. It‘s more of a one way street and that is a design problem we‘ve been working on. As far as opposition we have certainly seen that in different forms. To me it‘s not worth talking about. It‘s easy to start to feel like the world is against you. When in fact the opposite might be true.
T. As chief creative insurgent, what is Your mandate?
A. B. Well when I left the agency business i felt like i could do some good just by raising some awareness around some of the issues facing business at large so that agencies and marketing people had the context for themselves and a context with their clients that would lead to more of the important work that marketers can and should be doing. It took a while to find my genuine voice again and that process is evolving. But I clearly feel less like i‘m about to explode as the things ive held inside have finally found a way out.
T. You are quoted as saying: 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. In the current economic crisis, with companies more powerful than ever, how realistic do You think the prospect of your consumer revolution is?
A. B. I’ve never concerned myself with how realistic it is. If you think something is important you don’t worry about how realistic it is. You don’t have to think of it as a revolution but the facts of the change are all around us. And the companies who are responding to the new demands are prospering more that those that resist. From Walmart to Patagonia the shift is happening.
T. As I always say, only he who climbed up to the top of the mountain has a clear view. You have been at the top in advertising, you know how markets work, what happens backstage. Are advertising people ready to embrace change? Will they be among the first ‘good corporate citizens’?
A.B. Advertising is made up of a lot of bright and creative people. They tend to be a bit more aware and concerned because of the empathy that comes with creativity. So the people in advertising are very ready to embrace the change. But unfortunately that can be mostly frustrating when you have clients who are not ready for change. It is causing a lot of pain in the industry and is certainly a piece of why there has been an exodus. Exodus might be a too strong a word but the industry is bleeding good people and not attracting the kind of people it might have in the past. Yet there is tremendous work being done at agencies to lead their clients and lead the industry to what comes next. I’m confident some very big thinking is just around the corner.
T. Personally I see consumption as a societal sickness, in many ways just like drug addiction; companies are our drug peddlers. Although nations, societies, and individuals lost a lot of economic power in the current crisis consumption has risen. Are the negative implications of our consumption an issue at fearlessrevolution?
A.B. It would be a difficult position to take that neoliberalism has run a course that had led us to believe more is always the answer. So in many ways I’d love to see people be happy with what they have instead of the endless race. But consumption is a symptom of a deeper disconnect we have from ourselves and our place in the world. And focusing on the system won’t fix the problem.
T. What can we, individually, change? What shall we do first?
A.B. Get involved. There aren’t many bad people trying to screw up the world. Systems are broken not humanity. And systems respond to involvement. From the school system to the education system to the political system to the farm system they all will respond. Right now we have vigorous involvement in many of these systems from corporations and very little from average people. But every time people get involved the systems respond. Yet many of us are convinced that it’s not worth it or that we’d rather watch TV or look at pictures on facebook. As long as we find distractions more interesting than our lives and the lives of our children we will get the systems we deserve.
T. On the fearlessrevolution blog, your business partner, Rob Schuham preaches against mobile phones and soy milk – not least based more on his gut feeling than any sensible data. Considering the varied feelings people have of what is good for them and what not, isn’t a wide range of alternatives – hence, consumption of resources – necessary to make us feel better?
A.B. Well I’m not really sure what is going on there and I haven’t looked at the data he has on soy but he would not be alone in being concerned. The cel phone issue is one we will see come to light over the next decade. Some of the providers are already in small print suggesting you not hold your phone against your head.
T. Another big problem is money; many end users know that what they buy is not healthy for them or deleterious to the environment or society as a whole. Lacking the necessary means to buy better alternative products, what shall they do? (I am talking especially about everyday commodities, making up the bulk of our expenses.)
A.B. If your buying things you consider unhealthy or destructive but your buying them anyway then my sense is you just haven’t decided to empower yourself yet. There are lots of examples of people in difficult positions that have not only made a change for themselves but through that actually made change possible for others.
T. I saw Your conversation with Jeffrey Smith about America‘s food industry. Tell us a bit about the NON GMO Project.
A.B. Man, this week the Obama administration approved three new GMOs. I hope I’m wrong but there are lots of indications that the GMO industry will be the next Big Tobacco. There is so much money being made and set to be made by patenting and owning the worlds seeds that all the indications that there are serious health risks are being swept away. While most of Europe required labeling of GMOs which effectively meant European consumers could make a choice and in that choice said no to GMO. After all there are no consumer benefits to Genetically Modified Organisms. The only benefit is to the company that holds the patent so why would an informed consumer buy it. They wouldn’t. And that is why in this country there has been so much spent to keep GMO off of food labels. In my opinion the FDA is breaking the law. If a product is different enough to be patented, creating an organism that has never existed on earth, then it is different enough to be labeled.
T. Looks a bit like a David vs. Goliath situation. How long do you think will it take you to convince big companies of Your fearlessrevolution as the right way into the future?
A.B. I’m sure I will have enough keep me busy for quite a while.
T. Did You have a hand in the branding of FearLess and Common?
A. B. Yeah. With FearLess it was a lot more random. We knew we wanted to do a show that gave people a peek inside CPB and the word fearless was often used to describe the work back then. So it seemed right yet at the same time as I already said, I‘m not fearless at all. I have fears like most people but I do believe strongly that it is often our fears that keep us from accomplishing our dreams. So it‘s fear less. Fear Less. FearLess. Just trying to fear less is what the brand is about. Fear less love more. With COMMON we put up several hundred names on a chalk board. I liked COMMON best but I just asked around here and we don‘t know who put it up there first.
Rob and I did a week long process with a company called UFUSE. They had reached out to us and thought they could help us unlock our mission. It was a really incredible experience and not something i would have considered during most of my life. On day 3 most of the idea just popped out onto the dry erase board when we were asked how to accomplish our personal missions. It felt really exciting but ideas are somewhat worthless without the resolve and commitment to make it real. So they really pushed us on that too. It‘s easier not to take responsibility for the idea and let somebody else do it. But we‘re going to give it a shot.
T. Are there companies that have expressed strong intentions to partner with Common?
A. B. Yes. And we‘re trying to be cautious and not over promise.
T. What is Your vision for Common in the next few years?
A. B. I need to write that down as i‘m very focused in getting something however imperfect out there so we can start learning. But if we make a truly collaborative brand with with corporate values worth spreading it seems to me it can have only one goal. to be the biggest brand on earth.
T. Do You have any plans for the next few years?
A. B. To continue on a path towards a more and more generous life.
Thank You very much for Your time and answers!
Interview by Tatjana Vukic from SIBICA magazine.