Agency A-List

Droga5 Is No. 2 on Ad Age's Agency A-List

Founder David Droga Says 'Mad Men' Has It All Wrong: Advertising's Golden Era Is Right Now, and His Shop Is Proving It

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David Droga might be the only man on Madison Avenue who loathes "Mad Men."

That's not a knock on the writing, the parade of account men in fedoras and three-piece suits or even its misogynistic themes. What the founder of Droga5 can't stand is that the show celebrates the ad business of 50 years ago instead of the ad business of today.

"We don't want "Mad Men' to represent the golden era of advertising," he said. "It's a great series, and the masses talk about it, but does it have to take something from the 1960s to get advertising there?"

Nope. And some of the strongest evidence to support the notion that the best is yet to come is Droga5. The 5-year-old agency, with 120 employees and two offices, is sweeping awards shows and nabbing clients ranging from Amstel to Prudential with its avant-garde thinking.

One of the unique characteristics of the shop is that it relishes difficult jobs.

A case in point is the "Decoded" campaign for Jay -Z and Bing. It earned Droga5 a trio of Grand Prix trophies in Cannes last year, as the judges marveled at a complicated outdoor effort using unexpected media buys on everything from cheeseburger wrappers to pool tables.

"Some of their work can challenge the consumer to think a bit -- but it's so emotionally on point that it really makes it work," said Rodney Williams, senior VP-marketing at Hennessy USA. Campaigns like "Decoded" and assignments for Puma caught his attention, and he hired Droga5 after a review last year.

"Hennessy is a complex business, in that we sell everything from $5,000 bottles of cognac that 's consumed in the finest salons on Park Avenue to bottles sold much less expensively and consumed in a paper bag," Mr. Williams said. "[Droga5's ] ability to grasp complexity and translate it into simple, clear, cogent terms is exceptional."

"Droga5's reputation for industry-leading creative and unconventional ideas put them on our shortlist," said Colin Westcott-Pitt, VP-marketing at Amstel Light, who hired the shop last year without a review. "But their strategic insights, big-picture thinking and commitment to our brand sealed the deal."

"Every year we seem to pass bigger tests," said Mr. Droga. "In 2011 we took on some of the biggest brands in the country in some of the most conservative categories, and we did it without compromise."

The touching campaign Droga5 unveiled for new client Prudential, portraying people on their first day of retirement, singlehandedly elevated the quality of creative advertising in financial services.

Kraft Foods entrusted the agency to work on its Athenos yogurt products, a move that Kraft Senior Director-Marketing Communications Jill Baskin said resulted in a bump in sales. Kraft then returned to Droga5 for work on a granola bar.

"We weren't sure how to position this product," said Ms. Baskin. "In a category filled with product introductions each year, people were generally pretty happy with their granola bars."

Droga5 nailed a strategy that will launch in the coming months, and Kraft credits the firm for another vital thing: "With the MilkBite product, they actually helped us with name development," Ms. Baskin said. Kraft will bring the product to market under a name Droga5 conceived.

The agency's growth and its success with large marketers are sources of pride for CEO Andrew Essex, who said that "getting rid of this label of "boutique' was a huge accomplishment."

Droga5 is committed to climbing higher. And though profanity is welcome in the office, that 's about where comparisons to "Mad Men" stop.

"We have so much more to do and prove, so I'm not trying to bullshit myself," Mr. Droga said. But, he added, "We're the best pound-for-pound agency in the fucking world ... and I'd like to be one of the companies to get this industry back into a dominant leadership position."

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