A new counterbalance to corporate power is developing: radical transparency, according to ad guru Alex Bogusky. Bogusky is convinced that this real-time transparency, caused by today’s redistributed power and emerging technologies, can be win-win. Radical transparency can be good for corporations and good for the world. It’s the way that humanity can take back control from corporations.

Bogusky spoke last week at the “Turning the Tide” conference: Our Planet’s Health – Our Human Health. If you don’t know the iconic adman, he was on the cover of Fast Company in June 2008 with the story “Can This Dude Make Microsoft Cool?” and labeled the Steve Jobs of the ad world. Clients have included leading international companies such as Volkswagen, Virgin Atlantic, and Burger King. He has recently moved to a new role as “chief creative insurgent” of MDC Partners, the parent company of the ad agency he cofounded, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Part of his new job is to question the definition of marketing and communication in the corporate sector, which is the perspective he brought to this conference.

Over the centuries, power has shifted from the castles, to the churches, to government, and now to corporations, Bogusky mapped out for the audience of about 150 people drawn together by their passion for environmental action.  He rattled off a litany of examples including that of the world’s 100 largest economies, 49 are nations and 51 are corporations. The power before goes to work for the new power, so government’s fundamental mission now is supporting corporations, he said. It’s not about corporations being bad, but that today we need to create a more effective counterbalance to corporate power. With a record $3.5 billion dollars spent in lobbying last year, more is needed to counterbalance corporate power than our democratic system of representation.

What’s changing now is the redistribution of power and emerging technologies; we are all becoming more powerful. This shift leads to what Bogusky is most excited about: radical transparency. As consumers, we are just beginning now to get the understanding, tools, and data we really need to make a buying decision a vote, he said, and he gave examples of new technologies that can provide easy data accessibility to consumers. His examples included Carrotmob and the wikis Brandkarma and Sourcemap. His favorite was the Goodguide, which he described as “real-time radical transparency, handheld, a Google for supply chains.” 

Bogusky wrapped up enthusiastically and optimistically. Radical transparency is good for corporations, he said. Brands that are more transparent have higher multiples for their corporations, transparent companies can relate better to consumers, and people who work within these companies are happier. Humanity can succeed corporations as the ultimate power on earth, and corporations can work in service of humanity.

The Institute at the Golden Gate’s annual conference does a great job of pulling in multiple perspectives and brilliant speakers. This year’s first day included Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Dean Ornish, actor Peter Coyote, photographer Bryant Austin, and musician Adam Gardner.  Turning the Tide is a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in partnership with the National Park Service. (Full disclosure: the Stanford Social Innovation Review was a media sponsor.)

To listen to Bogusky’s presentation, click here.  It’s a little tricky to find; his talk starts at roughly minute 45 in the “Prescriptions to Improve Ocean’s Health” video.