5 Minutes with… David Droga
Founder/ Creative Chairman of Droga5
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB > Talk to me about the inspiration behind Droga5. What were the thoughts behind its inception?
DD > Wow… See, that’s giving us too much credit! You’re assuming I had some epiphany and then it was some big business plan. It was a combination, really. I’d been very lucky with my career; it had taken me around the world and I’d worked at some pretty impressive places and worked with some great people. But I’d sort of moved up the ladder really quickly and I suddenly found myself (after Publicis bought Saatchi’s) put in this global worldwide job. It’s kind of top of the food chain, within that context, and you sort of think, ‘well, was that it? Was that was I was chasing?’
LBB > How old were you when you were given that role?
DD > I was 33. It was a bit silly. It was a big title, big office, big responsibility; all the things you think you want. Big salary, big title, big corner office… but I’m a creative person and I was not doing what I actually, really like doing and that I really enjoy. So I thought I had to try something different.
I didn’t leave to start Droga5. I actually wanted to leave to start to create a home shopping channel, aimed at the younger demo, a thing called Honey shed. It was a really good idea, just completely bad timing. So, I left to do something even more ambitious but that was still grounded in advertising. That was meant to be an advertising channel and then, just out of frustration at just trying to do that, I thought ‘I still have to do something in advertising’ and I started Droga5, just on the side, more to keep me busy and it just sort of boomed… from day one. I think because I didn’t have a plan, I decided I was only going to do work that I wanted to do, that I believed in, something that I really like and only work with people that I really wanted to work with. That is probably why it wasn’t compromised and hasn’t compromised, because I didn’t plan it to be a massive success. Does that make any sense?
LBB > Yes, it makes total sense. In fact, it sounds very honest.
DD > Well, I feel like there wasn’t some definitive thing and each market that I had worked in had contributed to what I had learnt, so I was ready. Work ethic in one market, the craft in others, the standard and scale of business in others - I needed all those experiences. I just felt it was a good time to do something and I’m kind of arrogant enough and secure enough to think, I kind of knew it would be a success, because I believed in the creative work. It wasn’t that brave, because I knew that if it didn’t work, I could just get a great job somewhere else.
LBB > Last Thursday, at the One Show, Droga5 won the Green Pencil for your work with Vesta’s (http://bit.ly/LKlcSy). Can you tell us more about the campaign, its goal and if this award means anything to the agency?
DD > I think it is a great validation of a really lovely idea. It’s not really an advertising idea, as such. Vesta’s is the biggest wind turbine company in the world, in a very crowded space. It’s a really unusual brief to get for an agency where they are basically asking you to help them sell wind turbines and re-brand the company. People aren’t going out and buying wind turbines; governments and corporations buy them. They are millions of dollars, so it’s not really B2B and, as I said, people’s passion for sustainability and wind - it changes like the wind. When oil prices spike they suddenly care about it, other times - they forget. So we thought, ‘we don’t want to do a B2B campaign like everyone else in that category, why can’t we go a lot deeper, with a really simple idea’. That’s why it’s not a traditional advertising campaign. I was really happy about last Thursday because it acknowledges the idea for the scale of it. It might be the simplest idea ever done, but it might be one of the biggest.
There is so much concern in the world that we live in, now, about what ingredients go into a product; things have to be organic and no trans fat. We are very conscious of what we consume, how things are made, whether it’s fair trade… which is great. I feel as a society that things are more transparent. However, it is very weird to be that concerned and that passionate when you miss one of the biggest ingredients in everything, which is the energy to make it. If something pollutes the planet to make something organically healthy, doesn’t that sort of undermine the whole point? Isn’t that crazy? Why can’t we turn energy into a basic consumer-facing ingredient? If you get people thinking about wind it that capacity, then that will have impact on corporations and governments.
So, we created a simple brand mark that identifies whether a product has been made by wind power or not. You’ll be able to see it on the shelves, be it toys, sneakers, a cooler; whatever it is. If you have to choose between two products and can see that one is made using wind sustainable energy and one wasn’t, then why wouldn’t you choose the one using wind? It’s a simple idea. It didn’t start from a stalemate start, there are hundreds and hundreds of companies around the world that are already doing this: 50%, 60%, 20%, whatever the % of their energy consumption is wind – so we can’t start with what’s already out there. It acknowledges how progressive they are and it puts them in a forward-thinking category. If it becomes popular with consumers, then it will inevitably become the norm. When it becomes the norm, it changes behaviour and more people come onboard. That is why we launched it as a separate NGO to Vesta’s. They’ve been backing it, but it is separate enough that it can be validated. The UN has ratified it. It’s the first time we’ve ever ratified a brand mark. Not everything is going to come back to Vesta’s selling more turbines; I think it will lift the whole category, which by default raises Vesta’s.
LBB > You have another piece of work that has always been one of my personal favourites, which is ‘Tap Project’ (http://bit.ly/Mdl9Bo). I wanted to ask about where that brief originally came from and how, years since its release, that will now evolve and whether it will enter other major cities. I’d love it to be in London…
DD > I’d love it to be in London too. UNICEF operates separate channels globally and we launched it with UNICEF US.
LBB > How did it come about? Did they come to you?
DD > No, it came about in a complete round about way. I’d already been interested in UNICEF, but it actually came through a magazine that challenged me… Esquire Magazine had put me in their best and brightest issue, which is where they pick 20 talented people: musicians, doctors or scientists. Unlike the others, they challenged me to prove how bright I was. They offered me one free page in their magazine, to do anything I wanted, to use anyway I wanted. I thought ‘OK, I’m going to use that one page, I’m not going to use it for any of our existing clients – I want to create something’ and I just had this thought, ‘Why don’t we brand tap water?’ So we rang UNICEF and told them that I wanted to do this. They almost fell out of their chair and said ‘please’. I told Esquire the idea and, to their credit, they’ve been the biggest champs since day one. They loved it so much that they put multiple pages behind it and actually helped get the project up and launched and it just became one of biggest initiatives in US history.
LBB > I just love its simplicity
DD > Well, again, aren’t the best ideas the simplest? It’s mind numbingly obvious. It’s just really simple. I think that’s when advertising is at its best. There are wonderful executions that come from that, but the starting point is so grounded in existing behaviours, understanding the issues, understanding when to message someone, when not to. ‘It’s just behavioural’ is one of the biggest brags in the world; where something already exists and you don’t have to create anything. We don’t have to bottle water, we don’t have to pipe it anywhere, and we don’t have to do anything… It is already there. This thing that was sitting in front of people and was invisible to them; something we all take for granted. I would love for it to be in London, to be in each market. Currently it’s in many cities throughout the US, it’s reared its head in Japan and places like that. I have hope that it will start infiltrating into each city across the world, but it’s up to each of UNICEF’s markets to embrace it. They control their own destiny. I look forward to one day sitting in a bar in Portugal and there’s Lisbon Tap.
LBB > D&AD launched the White Pencil this year. I know you’re a big supporter of the D&AD. One Show has the Green Pencil and Cannes has Chimera… What do you think about these new categories where the influence of the industry is so pointedly highlighted and the ‘good’ that advertising can do within society?
DD > The industry has always been there and that’s something that has never necessarily been recognized. I think anything that shines a light on all the good that this industry is doing, and can do, and pushes more people to do it is, I think, a great thing. I hope it doesn’t just become a sub-category. I don’t want it to become that you can tick this box of ‘goodness’ and just do the rubbish over there. It should permeate through everything that we do anyway, but I feel like the fact that these shows are pushing it and behind it is only a good thing. We are an incredibly influential industry. How wonderful it is; is there any thing as creative as solving problems – real problems, real issues? Literally! That is the most inspiring part of our industry. We’ve known for years that we can build and create commerce, that we can fuel it and drive. That’s what our industry has been celebrated for and is very good at, but it extends far beyond that. You know, we create culture. We can help push things forward – I’m not saying we can solve everything, but we can contribute to it. There is so much good that our industry can contribute and I think that’s fantastic. I love the fact that these shows are leaning heavily into it, but, as I said, I just hope it doesn’t become a sub-sect category. We have to be careful how we manage it. As in, that’s the good part and the rest isn’t. But the more that unites this incredibly forward facing industry to do more for society is great. I’m a big supporter of it. It also feels so well timed. It’s perfect timing… it’s the world we live in now. You can be ambitious and you can still care at the same time.
LBB > How important are awards to Droga5?
DD > They’re not the end goal. They are flattering to win. We don’t enter many shows, if I’m honest.
LBB > But you have a pretty impressive array behind you…
DD > Yes, that’s because my wife won’t let me have them in the house! Look, there’s no question award shows - the right award shows are great, as is winning. There are only a few that I value. I think they’re fantastic and I believe that it totally depends on what you’re winning for.
I think awards serve a purpose in that they are good for recruitment. I think they are good for the ego, but we don’t sit around trying to create work to win awards. If we enter them, I certainly want us to win them. You don’t enter stuff to not win. We don’t enter many. I think we enter two maximum three. I don’t need it to win for me to love it. Vesta’s is a great example. I love the Vesta’s work and I had no idea that we would win anything. I thought it didn’t slot neatly into an advertising bracket, but I’m thrilled that it won the Green Pencil at the One Show last week. That is fantastic. If it hadn’t won anything, it wouldn’t have changed how I feel about it – I think it is amazing.
LBB > How did you get into the industry?
DD > I am the youngest of five boys and I’ve got two younger sisters and all my brothers had scholarships to Cambridge and other impressive universities; they’re over-achievers, do-gooders… (laughter)… the bastards! No, they are very good. I just wanted to be a writer…I didn’t care, I just wanted to write. I didn’t care what I did as long as I wrote. Whether I was writing comics, films, books, journals, I didn’t care. Then someone just said to me, ‘you know there’s this thing called advertising where you get to write things and people spend a fortune making your things come alive and you don’t have to wait years for things to get published’. I thought that sounded really interesting! I got a job in the mailroom of a big agency. I was 17 and I’d deliver the mail onto the creatives’ desks. I remember thinking ‘God, I could write better than that. That’s shit’… I did a thing called the Award School, which is the Australian equivalent of the D&AD School and I was the top student… So I got a job as a writer in an agency straight away and it went from there. I promised my parents I’d defer college for a few years. I always said I would go back and I never did.
LBB > You are Australian born and bred
DD > Through and through…
LBB > What is it that attracts you and keeps you here in NYC?
DD > It’s amazing. There’s energy and opportunity here that you get nowhere else. That’s not to say it is the only interesting place in the world. I love different parts of the world for different reasons, but I feel like, right now, for our industry and for culture, there’s just an avocation that you get in NYC and an opportunity, an energy that you can’t really get anywhere else. It doesn’t mean everything is led from here, but it’s the scale of opportunity here that is pretty amazing. It’s also a greater opportunity to fuck it up. I like it. I feel like you can have meetings here, chances here that nowhere else can offer – I feel like that and that’s not to say it will be like that forever, because when China rules the world I probably won’t be able to sit here and hold this conversation.
LBB > Droga5 appears to be going from strength to strength every year. You seem to be very lucky that you maintain a brilliant reputation for your work and for the people that you have here. What are your future plans for the agency?
DD > My plan is just global awesomeness... (laughter). I think it’s about being consistent, creatively consistent and not compromise as we grow. Like when you asked me what my plan was when we started the agency; I mean, obviously we are much more buttoned down than when I started… We do want to expand our horizons, we do want to expand the canvas into more places but I don’t think that’s necessarily in terms of the number of addresses we have.
We opened a software development company six months ago, which is creating technology; that expands our horizon, but it isn’t doing it in a geographic way, it’s doing it in a platform function. I’m open to whatever expands our offering, but how do we do it in a way that is authentic to what we are about? Which is really believing in the power of what we do, our ideas. We don’t want to just pollute out there, we want to do stuff that makes a positive difference. It sounds so worthy, but it’s true. We’re not perfect, we work our arses off and we’re chaotic, but for all our warts and for all our faults, our intentions are really good. I think the core is good. We battle all the same battles as everyone else does, but we believe in what we do. Everyone here is united by one thing, more than anything – no one has to be here. Everyone is talented enough to get a job anywhere else. The fact that they chose to be here is because of the fact that we make it worthwhile. That means it’s liberating for us to come together; we are part of something. Can we define what we are part of? No, but we know we are part of something and most people don’t get that opportunity.
LBB > A lot of agencies are creating brands or products in-house at the moment and many have criticized others for doing this, saying it’s a PR stunt. What do you think about this current trend and is it something you would do here?
DD > I would never criticize anyone for trying new things. Good on them, so they should. Anything that makes our industry more robust, make more money, have more certainty – absolutely fantastic. Would we do it here? If it was appropriate. I think the new technology company that we just launched will be creating its own properties, but it makes my mind boggle that anyone would criticize an agency for making their own products. I’m thinking that is so insane. I’m not saying that people will be successful or not, I think that all comes down to the merits and ideas of the brand… but absolutely, agencies have to find ways to make money, because agencies stop making money when the lights go out everyday. That’s the key isn’t it, we are a service industry and that’s a very fragile industry to be in.
LBB > How do you find and select talent for Droga5?
DD > We try to be on the pulse and see who is out there and we certainly have enough of a reputation where people are attracted to us as well. That’s not to say that we sit back and wait for people to come to us, but we are always out looking for curious people who aren’t just smitten with advertising. I look for people who are more interested in stuff out of the industry. I’m not after people who are just obsessed about advertising and every award angle that is out there – I don’t care about that. Really smart, interested people that are connected with the real world and who understand the power of advertising. Who don’t look at advertising as a stepping-stone to something else, but understand that we can make this something else.
LBB > What has been your favourite work this year, something that has truly resonated with you, so that you’ve felt as proud as punch about it?
DD > I feel like that the last 12 months have been really interesting for us as we have taken a real step up as far as the scale of categories we are playing in now. So it’s not necessarily crazy, quirky work, but I feel like the stuff we are creating for Prudential, I love (http://bit.ly/MdhpQh
). I feel it’s beautiful. It’s not going to rock every award show juries’ minds, but I feel like it is amazing, beautiful work. The whole campaign is to get thousands and thousands of people to genuinely document their first day of retirement. I love that. It unites a group of people to fundamentally change a category. It’s gone from patronizing to something that is filled with humanity and optimism and also, at the same time, I feel like the purpose of the work is more than just trying to sell insurance and annuities. I’m a sucker for a mission, I really am. I just fall for it every time. Any chance that there is to rally behind a real mission, where we can really be involved. That’s what I want to be a part of, you get seduced by it, you want to be part of it; you yearn for results. When you work like that, that’s when true creativity happens.
I love the stuff that we are doing for Puma (http://bit.ly/Jc5X7T
) and for Kraft (http://bit.ly/AqKI0i
) very quintessentially, seemingly, conservative company who are actually being one of the most progressive companies out there and pushing the hardest for major break through. Some of the new Puma work that is coming up I am really excited about. Have we done our big Jay-Z thing for this year? I think we have but in different form, we try not to replicate anything. We try…we’re not bullet proof. Nothing we ever do is going to be perfect, but our intentions are really good. We don’t have any clients that we hide the work from. We don’t have two showcase clients and hide the rest from them. Every single client, from the largest to the smallest; from Kraft, to Prudential, to Puma, to Vesta’s… We try our asses off. Even crazy clients. It’s hard, because caring is out of scope but we care about everything.
LBB > Do you still love what you do and, if so, why? What is it that you really enjoy? I can see you enjoy it, you’ve been punching a rugby ball for the last ten minutes whilst you excitedly talk.
DD > Of course. Creativity is an amazing, seductive thing. It’s addictive and there’s no finish line to it. Whatever lever you enter, it’s a very satisfying, ratifying, compelling, addictive thing. It’s about personal validation. It’s about opportunity. It’s about actually seeing something happen. It’s amazing. I feel like we are really lucky to have an opportunity where this many like-minded people want to work together. Clients pay us millions and millions of dollars to day dream and use our imaginations; that is unbelievable. To have conversations, random as selling sneakers, to politicians, to helping children to the UN… all these types of things. That is amazing! Every week is a bizarre collection of random conversations and opportunities, strung together by everybody wanting us to help them. Everyone comes with a big mandate and that’s ridiculous.