NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Not long ago Droga5 fit the definition of a hot shop, that breed of company particular to the ad world that's marked by flashes of brilliance and popularity, yet nagged by a skepticism that it's not quite real.
That rep was fueled by the fact that after opening in 2006, Droga5 quickly produced a pair of brilliant social-marketing ideas but also had an expensive flop with a failed online content and shopping platform. And it won some interesting brands but none exactly blockbusters. Not until 2010 did Droga5 morph from the kind of agency you had to keep an eye on into one you might want to emulate.
"It was the year we went pro," said Andrew Essex, the agency's CEO. "There was a presumption that we did a lot of pro bono work, that we didn't have real clients."
Consider that presumption dashed. Last year, Droga5 showed what it could do creatively for Puma and Microsoft's Bing, while winning business from bona-fide blue chippers Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Prudential Financial. Closing in on 200 employees spread across New York, Sydney, Auckland and Miami, the agency's revenue is probably in the vicinity of $50 million, though it won't divulge the number. The agency also counts 2010 as another year of more than 30% growth, its fourth in a row.
Founder David Droga, an Australian native who in 2005 parachuted out of the global creative role at Publicis Worldwide, still proudly calls himself an "adman," even if what he does troubles the definition of advertising. One of Droga5's early hits, Tap Project, got restaurant-goers to pony up a dollar for plain old tap water on behalf of Unicef. Then there is the matter of Honeyshed, the ill-fated online MTV-meets-QVC play where hipsters hawked clothes and accessories.
A little-known story about the genesis of Droga5 is that the agency was something Mr. Droga set up in his spare time merely because he was waiting for the ink to dry on the Honeyshed deal. That concept -- a strong idea but poorly executed -- was killed before it got any real traction.
See work from Droga5 on Creativity.
But it was a 2008 magazine article about Honeyshed that caught the interest of Antonio Bertone, chief marketing officer at Puma. By the end of the year, he'd hired Droga5 to help fix a brand that had gone adrift.
Droga5's work for the athletic brand hit its stride in 2010 with "Hardchorus," an ingenious video pegged to Valentine's Day, which last year fell on a Sunday, therefore interfering with soccer viewing. What do you do with the overlap of romance and sport? If you're Droga5, you film a chorus of rough-looking blokes -- shaved heads, stubble, teeth there but not in full -- rumbling through weepy mess "Truly, Madly, Deeply," by Savage Garden.
Unsurprisingly, the video was a hit, landing the brand 130 million media impressions. But it also stayed true to Puma's new strategy of the "The After Hours Athlete," the glorification of the darts throwers, pool shooters and foosball champions. That new identity that focused on sports rather than fashion or design helped Puma shake off a few-years run of flat sales and move to single-digit increases. It also drove serious traffic to the company website. Said Mr. Bertone: "They helped formalize and get to the root of what we wanted to achieve. ... They really helped us get to the point that we needed to reinvigorate ourselves among our core audience."
That balancing act of edgy creative with a strategy that's relevant to the brand comes up frequently with Droga5 clients. Mr. Droga, in an interview at his Noho office, described it this way: "While our creativity gets all the glory, it is our strategic thinking that is the backbone of everything we do."
Kraft would agree. The marketer made its way onto Droga5's roster late last year when the shop was given a narrowly defined project for Athenos, the hummus and Greek yogurt brand. "They came out with a strategy that was related to the way we make our products, which is very simply and respectfully," said Jill Baskin, senior director of marketing communications at Kraft. "It was completely rooted in who we are -- and then they pushed the boundaries." Droga5 also came out of the project with agency-of-record duties and its work will air early this year.
The agency also took up with Microsoft in 2010, working to get younger consumers interested in its search engine, Bing. The partnership resulted in one of the more memorable campaigns of the year, using Jay -Z's memoir, "Decoded," to spark use of Bing's map features. During the campaign, Bing visits grew by 11% and the effort helped share rise to more than 8%.
There are bigger projects on the horizon. In addition to its Vitamin Water duties for Coca-Cola, Droga5 will be handling at least two corporate-social responsibility assignments for the beverage marketer. Soon it will be helping perfume-maker Parlux launch a scent for Rihanna. And, of course, all eyes will be on what Mr. Droga and Ted Royer, his executive creative director, come up with on Prudential Financial, a buttoned-down insurance company.