Droga5 is Ad Age Agency of the Decade
Droga5 Founder and Creative Chairman David Droga has never been shy about his ambition—to rock advertising while pushing it forward and to do work that matters to the world. He’s also unapologetically immodest about his determination to always be the best. “At a bare minimum, anything we put out there has to be the strongest in the category,” he says. “But we always try to do things that make our industry broader and wider.”
That thinking has led to big creative ideas, big business wins and eyebrow-raising deals, and it’s hard to imagine what the texture of advertising today would look like had Droga5 never opened its doors in 2006. Since then, as it shifted from audacious startup to an established big shop, the agency has opened up the industry’s playing field, challenged its mandate and overall made it more intriguing. And for that, we name Droga5 our agency of the decade.
Take the Super Bowl. The agency thumbed its nose at Big Game convention many times over. In 2015 for client Newcastle, it stuffed 37 brands into one spot for the “Band of Brands” push. In 2018, it rallied a cast of Aussie mega-celebs for a movie marketing spectacle that turned out to be an Australian Tourism campaign. Then 2019 saw arguably the most entertaining surprise of them all, when a “Game of Thrones” dragon torched the Bud Knight in an unexpected HBO and Bud Light brand tie-up.
There were groundbreaking, genre-spanning efforts for tech brands, including the Cannes Lions Grand Prix- winning pushes “Decode Jay Z” for Microsoft Bing and “Did You Mean Mailchimp?” for the marketing services company. Its campaigns for Under Armour were artful and inventive, as seen in the “Rule Yourself” campaign, which captured the intensity of Olympic champion Michael Phelps, and “I Will What I Want,” which defied social media critics to show another side of supermodel Gisele Bündchen.
The agency brought depth to stodgy categories in its work for Chase and Prudential, and it made one of the decade’s most talked-about food moves with its goofy reinvention of IHOP into IHOb. Its truth-centered work for The New York Times powerfully explains why good journalism is worth paying for.
The agency also saw its business grow consistently. Droga5’s 2016 revenue jumped 62 percent from 2015, after at least a 31 percent revenue growth every year since its founding. It only saw a decline for the first time in 2018, after its most difficult year that also saw the surprising departure of its long-time Chief Creative Officer Ted Royer under murky circumstances. (Now that Droga5 is part of Accenture Interactive, it no longer releases revenue figures.)
“We were an upstart in New York City that rocked the boat from day one,” Droga says. That’s been evident not just in the shop’s work, but its business moves. In 2013, Droga5 entered a industry-defying partnership with WME that gave the Hollywood giant a 49 percent stake in the agency. Then last year came one of the decade’s biggest advertising headlines, when Droga5 was acquired by Accenture Interactive.
“We’re ballsy enough to do deals that could bolster the industry or blow it up,” Droga says. The big question then was whether the agency’s gutsy spirit would flame out under the weight of its massive new owner.
But the ideas continued to thrive with campaigns like HBO’s “For the Throne,” which included a scavenger hunt that sent the show’s fans searching for Iron Thrones around the globe. The New York Times campaign emerged as the big hit of Cannes 2019.
“They can tell a story in an attention-grabbing way, but they also want to make sure there’s a strategic underpinning to what we’re doing," says New York Times Chief Marketing Officer David Rubin, who credits Droga5's work for having a big impact on its business. By the time the agency debuted its latest Oscars ad for the Times this year, the paper had announced a record 5 million subscriptions, having added 1 million net digital subscriptions in 2019.
Last year also saw a glimpse of what’s now possible with the backing of Droga5’s new parent. “We now have the opportunity to paint on whatever canvas we want to help shape and grow clients’ business,” says Global Strategy Officer Jonny Bauer. The shop’s work for Harley-Davidson leveraged its creative know-how with Accenture Interactive’s technological and data muscle and included a brand overhaul and introspective films that focus on the spiritually uplifting experience of the ride.
“David and his team have contributed a lot in terms of helping brands establish what their purpose is," says Accenture Interactive CEO Brian Whipple.
As the agency moves into its next phase, one thing will remain the same. Says Global CEO Sarah Thompson, “Every ‘era’ has been good, but the thing that hasn’t changed is our relentless desire to innovate in new ways.”