David Droga, president of the jury for Innovation speaks about his vision & when he plans to start shop in India
He's the president of the jury for Innovation, another freshly minted category at the Cannes Lions this year. And yet it's just business as usual for David Droga who has done that twice already.
The names Dan Wieden (of Wieden & Kennedy), John Hegarty (of Bartle Bogle Hegarty) and Lee Clow (of TBWA) pop up. Followed by Steve Jobs, a man he admires not for Apple but for Jobs' ownership stake in Pixar, a company Droga says has created the perfect blend of storytelling and technology. And then, "This will sound random," he warns us about the potential absurdity of the following statement, "David Attenborough. I don't know why. I just think he had the best life," Droga says of the naturalist, broadcaster and England's national treasure.
In spite of having several influences from the UK, Droga is Australian by birth and spent his early years there. In an earlier interview with Brand Equity conducted a decade ago, he'd commented on the difference between the two countries: "It's easier to make it big in Australia if you are a sports star. In the context of advertising…there's some great talent. But people there would rather have a long lunch and sit on a beach. Whereas when you look at London — I love it — but it's quite a miserable place to live. That's why the most creative bands come out of England: on a miserable day they sit inside and write."
Having left the beaches of Australia, Droga embarked on a trajectory that quickly saw him become the first-ever worldwide chief creative officer of the Publicis Groupe. That was all before he decided to go entrepreneurial. In 2006, along with Andrew Essex, Judd Merkel and Duncan Marshall, he set up Droga5, an agency often featured in Top 10 lists of the best ad agencies in the world.
Droga5's work for brands like Puma (After Hours Athlete), Hennessey (Wild Rabbit), UNICEF (Tap Project), Prudential, and more recently Spotify's first ever TV ad and Newcastle Brown Ale's quirky campaign ‘No Bollocks’, have won critical acclaim within the industry. But they've done so even while making clients old and new very happy with tangible market results.
And this combination of pleased clients and impressed peers has led Droga to be the most awarded creative in ad history. Although his ego still wants to win advertising awards, he admits, "I have certainly matured. Now I am more obsessed with the ramifications of our work. Still as passionate, but also a less blinkered creative," says the thirdtime jury president at Cannes Lions 2013. He says about his ambitions for Droga5, "We don't want to be the biggest." And blindly go where many have gone before, to emerging markets like India not outer space, silly. "I make no efforts to hide the fact that I want to be there (in India) sooner rather than later.
However, just because it's a big, growing market doesn't mean I have to be there. We need good reason. And we have to earn the right to be there." Europe's first on the agenda. But if the universe is at its conspiring best, opportunities align and Droga finds the right desi partner, who knows, maybe next year? But for now, clearly, size does not matter. So, how about the most creative agency in the world? No. That's not top on his agenda either. "I know we are creative. We want to be the most influential agency. That is the Holy Grail," he says.
One of the hallmarks of the agency's work is its focus on craft. Droga started his life in advertising as a writer with the ambition to become a great one. So at first he wanted to emulate great writers, but that had to stop when he realised "the best writing happens when I have my own voice." He is however grateful for proof readers and spell check. No Spelling Bee champion, this one. "And my grammar is still atrocious," he confesses.
"But I always say sincerity and authenticity go a lot further." In his case, definitely a lot further than a perfectly constructed, grammatically spot on and generously sprinkled with big words copy that lacks a point of view and has the emotional depth of a single-celled organism. He says, "Over the years, advertising had become very lazy, very visual. Visuals are important, yes, but as a part of the story. We started taking too many shortcuts." The art of storytelling gets lost in all these visual effects.
"Visuals are compelling but sometimes the only way to get your point of view and purpose across is through words. Great copy can be embedded in any medium, any technology." Words have no restrictions, of course, apart from the constraints of time and perhaps more importantly talent. "I like copy that makes you feel first and then makes you think. Great advertising triggers an emotion in you. It has purpose. It touches a nerve, and that provokes a reaction." So what percentage of the work that we see today actually falls in that class of advertising?
A mere 5%, he says, "And that's me being generous." Most of the work floating in markets across the world is just formulaic, patronising and invisible according to Droga. "We all end up referring to same 10 or so good pieces of work." What's his prescription to fix the problem of creative bankruptcy in the industry? Disruption, a word liberally used in agencies from Mad Ave to Mumbai, always seems to be a popular way to go. But Droga's not a big believer of disruption because it’s about interruption.
"We have to earn attention and earn loyalty," he says. Over the past decade or so that is the lesson the industry as a whole forgot about. "Now the pressure is back on us to be relevant. Only good can come from that. Instead of recovery, let's reinvent. Advertising is full of great thinkers. This is a powerful industry, and does a lot more than we take credit for. I say it in office all the time, no other industry has worked harder at being lazy."