David Droga: ‘I just never take my foot off the gas’
Posted on January 04, 2020 | By Nils Adriaans

Whenever David Droga speaks, there isn’t a single seat left in the room; he is the rock star of the advertising world. In early 2019, “his” Droga5 was taken over by Accenture Interactive. In Cannes, the Australian ad man talked about a shrinking industry – at the same time, he firmly believes in creativity. How does he view the future of advertising and communication between brands and consumers? Nils Adriaans recently spoke to him.

 

Instead of being taken over by a larger fish, you undoubtedly could have taken over a smaller fish with the competencies of Accenture Interactive yourself – and could have remained independent. Why didn’t you do that?

David Droga: “It is true that I have always said that I was proud of our independence. But it is also true that when you look at my career, I like to move forward and often at a high speed, and that I don’t always make the most obvious decision.

Having said this, the truth is that we were not truly concerned with staying independent or not, or being taken over, we never put ourselves on display – the conversations with Accenture Interactive had been going on for three years, initially on an informal basis because we had a joint client and over time those conversations became more and more serious. But there were also whole periods of time that we did not speak.

There was also no need to do it; we were already an interactive agency and already employed many coders and data scientists, we were a very healthy company with 600 employees. Why we said “yes” is because it’ll blast us forward into the future. If you have to do it all yourself, it will all take much longer - and perhaps too long in the long run. Now we are, just like that, an experience agency that can serve all touch points for brands, at the highest level. Plus, I am not afraid to collaborate. In short, the opportunity was too big not to do it.”

 

And what’s it like to work as an ad man with consultants?

“We’ve only just begun of course. A large part of the day looks the same as before. Certainly since the deal has been concluded and we left the media circus behind us, I have more time for clients again. But we mainly try to do it right from the start; so we do briefings together that go much further than the fireworks that advertising often is, and we talk a lot during such processes. A number of their data scientists are now also with us, there are daily meetings to learn to understand each other’s ‘language’ and Brian Whipple, the CEO of Accenture Interactive, and I literally compare notes every week. Let me put it this way: I have had more interesting conversations in recent months than the previous five years.

What our biggest dream has always been before the Accenture Interactive deal was to make a difference. But with our great strategic stories we only touched a small part of the actual business decision making process of organizations. We didn’t have the scale or the weight to really influence that. Now storytelling becomes part of everything our clients do. At the same time we also learn what our place is. By that I mean that advertising is ‘only’ a part for a company to grow, but that creativity – which goes broader – is greatly appreciated. Our ambition is to spread that magic, creativity, across all those touch points with customers to attract their attention in a positive way.’

 

Droga5 was known for creating intelligent work that managed to touch emotions through all the clutter. What kind of work can we expect from Droga5 Part or Accenture Interactive?

“We will build more. What that will look like exactly, I don’t know yet. But Accenture Interactive has more coders than any holding (international network agency). You have to think about campaigns with a huge apparatus of digital communication behind it. Or a complete customer service system that is more creatively equipped. The advantage of technology and data is that you can offer clients much more certainty than just the hopeful answer that “the campaign will probably do well” – you know you will reach the customers with a relevant insight. This allows you to target creativity more, which will actually set it free. You waste less creativity on hope.

When it comes to letting Droga5 go, I am particularly happy that we’ve had a good year: with our work for Game of Thrones, the social media hype around IHOb and the success of The Truth is Worth It for The New York Times in Cannes (the campaign won 2 Grand Prix, for Film and Film Craft, NA). We quit while we’re way ahead.”

 

In Cannes you spoke, during an interview together with Brian Whipple, of a ‘shrinking industry’. The British trade magazine Campaign was talking about the next golden age for the advertising world with all the content needed for all channels. What is your view on this?

“I think we are both right. I talked about mass advertising as we knew it: with beautiful films and campaigns on TV, in the newspaper and on popular sites. That is in decline, that is a fact. At the same time, more money is being spent on advertising than ever before. To content on social media, but also to Google, Facebook and so on. Now everyone is involved in advertising and suddenly everyone wants creativity, to grab the erratic, unattainable attention of the consumer.

To answer your question more directly: how I look at it is that we have to realize that creativity is in the center of it all. Look at the talks in Cannes. Which are the most popular ones? The ones about unexpected work, about insights and impact. We have to embrace the Google’s of this world, they have a huge impact on how we communicate nowadays, but they don’t make the difference in connecting with consumers. The actual work makes the difference.”

 

To not beat around the bush: what is it like to be the star of the international advertising world? (When Droga speaks in Cannes, there is a line in the convention building that does not stop.)

“I have never pursued a title or fame, or money. I greatly appreciate the accolades, but as a creative person I have always focused on the work and the people I work with. I did strive for the highest level. I am also always in a hurry – which can be a flaw sometimes.

But in general I feel free to be creative; I don’t feel restricted by any political games or like I’m being held hostage by banks, which you also have to deal with when you own a company. I feel comfortable with the thought that we are the heart of the industry, that we are the ones. There is a lot of pressure on that, and faith in our ability, but I like to live up to that and even top it.

In other words, I just never take my foot off the gas. That makes me happy. I am competitive by nature, with everything. But when the spotlights are out, I am not counting or polishing my trophies; I am thinking of new, mesmerizing creative solutions.”

 

 “Let’s put it this way: I’ve had more interesting conversations in recent months than in the five years before that”

 

You are a copywriter by nature. Do you still ever write?

“Oh God, I haven’t worked on a brief for 20 years. Fortunately I am in the circumstance that I’ve always had many great creatives around me. I like to think I was a good writer. But I realized at a young age that I was quite a selfish creative – I wasn’t much of a team player in that role, it had to go my way.

I turned out to be a better creative director, who managed to gather even better copywriters and other creatives around him. I know very well what emotionally resonates, what cuts through someone’s soul. I like it when advertising causes a stir or even a shock. I also like to keep things simple, which also helps to make good work. There’s a lot that distracts.”

 

How have you seen brands change over the years?

“Brands move along with the socio-cultural, political-economic changes, as they have always done, in order to maintain ties with the consumer. Which means they must now have a clear purpose, which is socially accepted as well. This does not necessarily have to be something that will save the world immediately or entirely. But brands reflect the real world and consumers are increasingly asking for responsible behavior of them. So, as a brand, you can’t avoid thinking about it – plus you’ll have to have an opinion if consumers ask what you stand for.

I welcome that, and I have always welcomed that. I admire brands that speak out socially or politically. It seems to be a trend now, so brands should be careful not to hop on the bandwagon; they really need to think their position through. But I’m happy with it, you and I are also consumers and inhabitants of this planet. I urge brands to do the right thing… I’m happy to help.”

 

As a very successful ad man - which means that on behalf of your clients you have made people buy a lot of products and services – do you feel like responsible for the extreme consumption society we now live in?

“Absolutely. But I don’t feel guilty. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about not pretending to be good when you’re not. I prefer to work for brands with a higher purpose, but I am not Mother Theresa. I also sell pizza or clothing, I like what I’m doing, but I think it is very important that they are aware of their social responsibility – especially now that the earth needs us. It starts to slide if I would have to sell products that I would rather not give my children, like soft drinks with tons of sugar. As a leader I don’t want to be any different than as a father, that would be wrong.

Having said that, two hours away from New York we have a ranch, where we spend as much time as possible as a family. I purposefully try to give my children appreciation for nature.”

 

Are your children interested in what you do?

“The oldest is going to film school at USC in Los Angeles since this year. And the other 3 are also creative. It’s mostly very chaotic at home, let’s put it that way. They are interested, as much as teenagers are aware of what their father do – to be honest, I’m thankful for that.

No, they are not suddenly interested in working at a consultancy firm. Unless they pay a lot of course (laughs).”

 

Finally, John Mescall (Global Executive Creative Director of McCann Worldgroup) and Nick Law (until recently the highest creative boss of Publicis Global, now VP Marcom Integration at Apple) are familiar faces in the international ad arena and Aussie as well. How come Australians are doing so well in this industry?

“We are open to the world, we travel easily – which you have to do if you want to achieve something. There is no language barrier, we’re a bit raw sometimes, have a charming accent (we like to think) and work just as easily in a bar in Amsterdam as at an advertising agency in New York.

In short, we have a bit of a gypsy mentality (American creatives, for example, hardly move, maybe there are some in Amsterdam or London, but that’s about it.) and we punch above our weight, and we like that. We’re not afraid, which helps when you’re a creative in such a restless industry.’

 


 

King David

David Bjorn Droga (1968) is the Messi or Ronaldo of the advertising world; he was the first or the youngest in practically everything and won more awards than any other advertising man or woman ever. Because it is impossible to list all his achievements, here is a nonetheless staggering list of what Droga has accomplished:

  • Droga started in the mail room of Gray Sydney at the age of 18, where he soon became a copywriter (this is the first commercial he ever made).
  • At the age of 22 he became a partner and Executive Creative Director at OMON Sydney. It is 1990.
  • In 1996 he moved to Singapore to become Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore and Regional Creative Director of Saatchi Asia. In 1998, the regional trade journal Media Marketing declared Saatchi Asia the Regional Network of the Year and the Advertising Age the Singapore branch the International Agency of the Year. Droga is crowned King David.

About this period, Droga stated: “My experience in Asia really gave me value of hard work – it was almost like two years there is five years anywhere else – and also exposure to people from all over the world and their thinking”

  • Droga gets promoted in 1999 and becomes Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi London, where he develops an ever-greater love for craft.
  • In 2002, Advertising Age named Droga World’s Top Creative Director and Advertising Age, Adweek and Cannes Lions elected Saatchi & Saatchi London as Global Agency of the Year.
  • In 2003, Droga is ‘hijacked’ from Saatchi & Saatchi and appointed as Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of Publicis in New York. He has reached the top, but loses touch with the work, and therefore with himself. “I wasn’t even 40 yet, I didn’t want to retire."
  • Droga5 (David was the 5th in a family of 6 children, his mother sewed the numbers in clothes to be able to tell them apart) is a fact in 2006. The agency presents itself as “humanity obsessed”. Over the years, Droga5 will be named Agency of the Year in America over 20 times by Adweek, AdAge (this year as well) and Fast Company.
  • Since 2011, Droga has been the most acclaimed advertising creative in Cannes. This day he has won 200+ Lions, of which around 80 are gold and 20 are Grand Prix (the PR department of Droga5 has stopped counting).
  • In 2013, Droga sells 49% of his agency (for $ 225 million) to Hollywood-based media company WME, is the youngest person ever indicted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and Droga5 opens an office in London.
  • Droga5 closes its branch in Sydney in 2015, after 7 years.
  • Droga receives the Lion of St. Mark (Cannes Lions’ lifetime achievement award) in 2017 at the age of 49, also the youngest ever.

You may like to read: six creatives from six continents interview David Droga