This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!

“People will treat you the way that you allow them to treat you”

-Alex Bogusky

excerpt from book

David Passiak: When you left advertising, you partnered with your wife and Rob Schuham to start the FearLess Cottage. There was this idea of being fearless in terms of taking on the impossible, and also to fear less and love more, so the name had an interesting double meaning. Fearless evolved from an incubator of ideas and projects, into Fearless Unlimited, a social impact agency.

One of the Fearless projects that I found particularly interesting was a new Consumer Bill of Rights, which encouraged companies to be transparent about things like donations, ingredients, labor, etc. Can you tell us about Fearless and what led you to advocate a new Consumer Bill of Rights?

Alex Bogusky: I left the agency business because I wanted to get back to being able to voice what I thought. At the time, my thoughts were fairly heretical and upsetting to corporate America around things like transparency, ingredients, and GMOs. Those issues have gone mainstream, but six years ago were radical. During that arc, Fearless got created. It was a kind of experiment for exploring these ideas and doing work that we believed in with nonprofits and with Al Gore on climate change.

People will treat you the way that you allow them to treat you. I think that with consumers, it’s the same contract: You will be treated the way you allow brands to treat you. When you ask, “What rights should Americans have?” If you ask the British in 1770, they had a very different answer to that than where we wound up. You have the rights that you demand; you don’t have the rights that you deserve.

Some consumers are very aware of that contract. They think about it, work on it and press for it. But the vast majority don’t care. Businesses are beholden to their customers. They’re going to behave in whatever way customers want and they’ll live up or down to whatever standards customers demand.

Some visionaries like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, or Paul Polman at Unilever will say, “No one’s asking me to create a higher standard, but I’m going to go do it.” But most companies stay barely in front of consumer expectations. That’s the way the world works. People will have the brands and transparency that they demand, and they won’t have anything more.

ALEX BOGUSKY’S career began over 20 years ago when he joined a 16-person ad agency called Crispin and Porter. Under Alex’s direction, Crispin Porter + Bogusky grew to more than 1,000 employees with offices in Miami, Boulder, Los Angeles, London, and Sweden, and with annual billings over $1 billion. During Alex’s leadership, CP+B became the world’s most awarded advertising agency, and in 2010, Alex received the rare honor of being named “Creative Director of the Decade” by Adweek magazine.

Always drawn towards a cause, Alex created groundbreaking initiatives such as the “Truth” campaign, which was named the most successful social advertising campaign in U.S. history. His work with Vice President Al Gore debunked the notion of “Clean Coal.” And in 2011, Alex rebranded The Climate Reality Project and launched 24 Hours of Reality—the most highly viewed streaming web program of its time.

Since leaving CP+B in 2010, he and his wife, Ana, keep busy investing and advising in over 40 advertising and tech firms including his investor/advisor role for Lyft, the ride-share platform; investor/advisor in Fearless Unlimited, an agency dedicated to positive social change, where he continues his work on climate change with Al Gore; investor/founder in MadeMovement, an ad agency with a focus on clients that create U.S. jobs; investor/advisor in Humanaut, a marketing agency in Chattanooga; investor/founder at HealthySkoop an organic plant-based nutrition company; founder of Boomtown, a tech-startup accelerator; and general partner in Erli Ventures, an early-stage tech fund.